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Archive for February 10th, 2012

My 2011 BSFA Award Short Fiction Ballot

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So, I’ve now read the five shortlisted stories for the BSFA Award and thanks to everyone else who read them and commented, it has been informative for me and hopefully enjoyable to you. If you are a BSFA member or are attending Eastercon, please do read the stories as it would be nice to have a high turnout for the vote. They are all available online but we also hope to make them available again as a printed booklet for members. Once you’ve done so, I’d welcome any more comments here as the deadline approaches.

I’ve set out my ballot below with links to each of the discussions. I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with my rankings but I wonder if anyone would disagree that, considered as a whole, it isn’t a particularly strong shortlist.

In terms of coverage of the field, it is broad in some directions and narrow in others. There are two science fiction stories: one set on another planet in the far future, one set on an alternative Earth in the near past. Then there are three fantasies that are all set in Britain and deal with a protagonist facing the intrusion of a single example of the fantastic: a magic clock, animated oil rigs and a satyr. Only one of the stories – and ironically, one of the fantasies – is set in the near future. There is a marked absence of the core tropes that people associate with science fiction and fantasy. Not a criticism, of course, but as someone who doesn’t read a lot of genre short fiction, I wonder how representative it is.

1) ‘Covehithe’ by China Miéville

The clear winner for me and the only shortlisted story that looks anything like an award-winner. It’s Miéville, innit?

2) ‘Afterbirth’ by Kameron Hurley

I liked this a lot but I primarily liked it as a companion piece to God’s War. However, it seems to have worked for Aishwarya Subramanian and Fernando Hugo, even though it was their first exposure to Hurley.

3) ‘The Copenhagen Interpretation’ by Paul Cornell

A fun setting that I’d like to read more of but only in a broader context. Here it is a bead on a necklace and I want to see the whole thing, particularly if the ending really did attempt to conceal a huge paradigm shift.

No Award

I can’t actually remember if the awards have a No Award option but, if they do, this is where it would go.

4) ”The Silver Wind’ by Nina Allen

A huge disappointment from an author I admire. In the comments, Niall Harrison articulates the virtues I would usually associate with Allan but I can’t find them here.

5) ‘Of Dawn’ by Al Robertson

A familiar story badly executed at unneccessary length. British SF writers really need to get out of this rut but perhaps there is no incentive since this style of story obviously continues to prove popular.

Written by Martin

10 February 2012 at 15:36

‘Of Dawn’ by Al Robertson – 2011 BSFA Award Short Story Club

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‘Of Dawn’ was originally published in Interzone #235.

From the second paragraph of this story, I knew ‘Of Dawn’ wasn’t for me: “A bus rumbled past outside, and the floor shook gently. For a moment, she imagined a god passing by – a drift of shadow that might have been wings; a soul borne away, to cross a dark river.” That is Sarah, letting her imagination run wild as she arranges her brother Peter’s funeral. He was killed in Iraq but absolutely nothing is made of this except to position him as a modern soldier-poet. Not only is Peter a poet but Sarah is a musician and ‘Of Dawn’ is one of those depression works of art about works of art:

Peter returned obsessively to early twentieth century composer Michael Kingfisher, to the aftermath of warfare in the former Yugoslavia, to Salisbury Plain and the deserted village of Parr Hinton; to images of a skinless man, walking through the nearby woods, at once leading him into knowledge and foreshadowing his own future. “An angel satyr walks these hills,” Peter had said, quoting Kingfisher.

Kingfisher is Michael Kingfisher, a Twentieth Century composer of Robertson’s invention. The angel satyr – horrible phrase – is Marsyas, a figure from Greek mythology. You can probably guess where this is going. Sarah develops an obsession with Kingfisher and discovers that Marsyas may be more than a just myth. Thankfully Robertson at least makes no attempt to play this ambiguiously, although there is a painful low point where Sarah unconvincingly mistakes a man in a red tracksuit for a flayed satyr.

In some ways it is the classic Interzone fantasy story of the pre-Andy Cox era: a lot of depictions of the English landscape, the intrusion of a fantastic figure, a supposed focus on psychology, hints of madness. Robert Holdstock and Ian R MacLeod were suggested as examples of the type on Twitter and there are many more. In the Nineties, it seemed like Interzone used to publish a story like this every month.

So they are overly familiar and Robertson’s is not even a good particularly good example. It is too long, is further slowed down by clods of research (real and imaginary) and is told in strained, overblown language throughout:

Verdancy suffused the television screen as the programme built to a climax. The camera explored ash-grey Stonehenge. Red ribbons shook and bells jangled as six men danced together. Sunset blazed through trees, a fire in the deep woods. Tumuli humped like whales in the green. Between each shot, colour bloomed across the screen like so much spilt paint.

Written by Martin

10 February 2012 at 09:55