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Archive for January 28th, 2012

Handicapping The Best Novel Shortlists

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At the beginning of the month, Niall Harrison had a great post which tried to predict the shortlists and winners of this year’s SF awards for best novel. The first two of these shortlists have now been announced: the BSFA Awards and the Kitschies. What will win though? Well, here are my guesses, starting with the BSFA Award for best novel:

  • Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith (Newcon Press)
  • Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan)
  • The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)
  • By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
  • Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

Frankly, this is a two horse race. At best. Miéville and Priest are multi-award winners who were always going to appear on the shortlist and it seems inevitable that one of them will walk off with the award. I would put money on that one being Priest. Harrison agrees. He also predicted the titles that would appear on the shortlist (although he allowed himself more than five guesses); I predicted four, thinking Tidhar’s spot would be taken by The Kings Of Eternity by Eric Brown. Part of my thinking has that Brown’s book would have been more widely read than Tidhar which might explain why PS Publishing are currently offering the Kindle edition for free.

Of course, there three other categories. All five stories shortlisted for the short fiction award are available online so I will be reviewing them, setting out my personal ballot and predicting the winner once I’ve read them. Non-fiction I don’t have much to say about, except to predict that the beta of the third edition of the Science Fiction Encyclopedia will win. I also think it is worth reading Harrison’s comments about the viability of the award. Last of all, both the BSFA Awards and the Kitschies also have a category for best artwork and again, I intend to cover that in a separate post.

Now the Kitschies. Pornokitsch are actually running a competition to predict the winners. The four judges – Lauren Beukes, Rebecca Levene, Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin – haven’t yet made their final decision and I think it is harder to second guess a group of individuals than the membership of an organisation like the BSFA. But I’m going to try. Firstly, the Red Tentacle for best novel:

  • The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington (Orbit)
  • Embassytown by China Miéville (Tor)
  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd (Walker Books)
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (Sandstone)
  • Osama: A Novel by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

Miéville appears again but I think he is much less of an obvious contender this time round. Tidhar also appears again and my instinct is that this comes down to a three way fight between those two and Ness. Harrison thinks Tidhar will win but, whilst I wouldn’t bet against Osama, I think Ness might just take it. Next the Golden Tentacle for best debut novel:

  • Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick (Tor)
  • God’s War by Kameron Hurley (Night Shade Books)
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Harvill Secker)
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Quirk)
  • The Samaritan by Fred Venturini (Blank Slate Press)

2011 has been Morgenstern’s year so I think she’s got it in the bag. Venturini is a completely unknown quantity for me and I imagine Hulick will be discarded fairly early on so if there is any competition it will come from Hurley and Riggs. But I think Harrison will be disappointed if he hopes for God’s War to triumph.

Written by Martin

28 January 2012 at 16:19

Posted in awards, books, sf

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Oh God, What Is Alain De Botton Banging On About Now?

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Alain de Botton has a new book to plug which means he has been trolling the newspapers with eye-catchingly stupid ideas. This time round it is an atheist temple, a concept so stupid it is painful to even type. Before taking the piss out of de Botton and talking a bit about atheism though, I’d like to address the practicalities of the proposal.

The idea is to build a 46 metre tower for £1m in the City of London. Currently de Botton has raised less than £500,000 from a group of property developers and hopes to raise the rest from public donations. Even if he reaches his target, that seems a pretty low figure. If we think about another ludicrous folly that’s just been erected in London, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the construction costs were £19m and the land was thrown in for free. Admittedly that was a bigger and more complicated (and uglier) project but still.

The nice computer generated image on de Botton’s website shows the tower plonked down right next to the Bank of England. I think we can safely say it won’t be located there since there is no space for it and, if there was, no one would give the land to him for free. Press reports suggest instead that it is “likely to be located” in the Barbican. Again, I’d like to know where this land is. Such a location would also rather undercut the majestic soaring tower shown in the illustrations since it would be surrounded by the UK’s three largest residential buildings which at 123 metres would be two and a half times as tall.

Then there is the fact that whilst much is made of the buildings height, nothing is mentioned of its width. The illustration suggests this is about four metres, making this awe-inspiring temple about the same size as my front room. If you are going to build a tiny tourist attraction for reflection, why not build unlimited urban wood for a fraction of the cost and inconvenience? If you want a practical space for the discussion of humanist ideas then build something less ostentatious and more useful like Conway Hall?

So that’s why I don’t think this tower will ever get built and why if it did, it wouldn’t actually fulfill its intended purpose. Now onto the snark. Here is the project’s statement of intent:

As religions have always known, a beautiful building is an indispensable part of getting your message across. Books alone won’t do it.

This is a pretty unorthodox historical analysis. Consider Fountains Abbey, one of the UK’s greatest religious buildings. Back in 1132, were medieval peasants sitting around their hovels, flipping through their bibles and going “hmm, this narrative isn’t very compelling, if only there was some impressive architecture to swing it for me”? No, they weren’t since, for all intents and purposes, books didn’t bloody exist. Even after the invention of moveable type three hundred years later, your average serf on the street wasn’t likely to have a nice little library of Penguin Classic. Or even be able to read. The idea that churches and cathedrals existed to supplement books is ridiculous, they existed to glorify god and spread the good word because congregating physically was the only way of doing so. This is no longer the case. In fact, the decline in church attendance has mirrored both the rise in other forms of communications and the increased education and leisure time to access them. de Botton simply ignores this, looking backwards to a time when everyone was illiterate as his solution to a perceived 21st Century problem.

But does this problem actually exist? Putting aside the nonsense about buildings being an “indispensable part of getting your message across”, why do atheists need to get the message across at all? I am an atheist. This is for the simple reason that I don’t believe in god. As long as I am not discriminated against, however, I don’t care what anyone else believes. Despite positioning himself as the cuddly alternative to Richard Dawkins, he is guilty of exactly the same crime: proselytising. I’m sure I speak for a lot of atheists when I say I wish they would both just fuck off. I’ll give the final word to Chris Bertram though:

Any spat between Alain de Botton and Richard Dawkins is one where I’m kind of rooting for both of them to lose. On the other hand, Dawkins has some genuine achievements to his name and has written some pretty decent books, so there’s some compensation when he acts like an arse, whereas in de Botton’s case…

Written by Martin

28 January 2012 at 11:43

Posted in design, life

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