BSFA Review – Vector #272
The winner of this year’s BSFA Review poll of reviewers was also my favourite science fiction of 2012: Empty Space by M John Harrison, the concluding volume of the Kelfuchi Tract trilogy. This truly remarkable novel is reviewed by Dan Hartland over the page: “The boldness of Empty Space, then, is in positing a physical source of the metaphorical, allegorical and symbolic currency of the literary novel. Like the Tract itself, the trilogy which bears its name permits two-way traffic: from the literary to the science fictional, Harrison carries artful prose and intense human sympathy; in the other direction, he drags substance and even rigour.” All three novels have been nominated for the BSFA Award and, if there is any justice, this will be Harrison’s year.
Then again, I wouldn’t bet against Jack Glass either. Adam Roberts is a bit of a marmite author: he is critically acclaimed and widely admired but his books have a tendency to rub people up the wrong way. I’m inclined to think that is a good thing but Jack Glass has undoubtedly proved less divisive than most of his work – in a forthcoming review, Dave Roberts describes it as his “most entertaining to date”. It has already appeared on the shortlist for the Kitschies (losing to Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway) and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it appear on the Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist after a much-remarked upon absence for the last couple of years.
Our third place novel is also a BSFA Award nominee: 2313 by Kim Stanley Robinson. As you’d expect from a KSR novel, it is hugely ambitious but even Ian Sales, who chose it earlier in the magazine as his book of the year, notes: “The future Robinson describes is a work of art, though it’s a pity he couldn’t give us a plot to match.” It is for this reason that Gary Dalkin’s forthcoming review describes the novel as a “thudding bore” but Robinson remains well loved.
What both the BSFA Award shortlist and our top five lacked this year were any novels by women. This is at least partially a reflection of the membership’s preference for science fiction over fantasy and the lack of much of a pool to draw from given the parlous state of British SF publishing when it comes to women. Hopefully the arrival of Del Rey Books in the UK this year, bringing with them Kameron Hurley and EJ Swift, will improve this situation. Still, it is worth noting that only two women have won the award in its 43 year history.
Despite the impediment of being a female fantasy writer – and a children’s fantasy writer to boot – Frances Hardinge makes our sixth place. Hardinge is simply one of Britain’s best fantasy authors, I am very pleased to see her appear on this list and I can’t wait to read A Face Like Glass. In contrast, Railsea, a children’s fantasy by perennial awards-magnet China Mieville, seems to have found little favour anywhere (although his story ‘Three Moments Of An Explosion’ did make the BSFA Award shortlist).
Just behind her in seventh is Boneland by Alan Garner, “a summation of Garner’s understanding of the impulses that shape and drive us as human beings, reaching far back into the mythic past”, as Maureen Kincaid Speller put it earlier. This book completes the immensely influential children’s fantasy trilogy he began over fifty years ago with The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen, testament to the rich history of British children’s literature. It remains remarkably fecund today: a new children’s genre imprint, Strange Chemistry, appeared in 2012 and Mark Connorton and Cherith Baldry review its four launch titles on page 42.
Garner shares the seventh spot with Intrusion by Ken MacLeod. It goes without saying that it also makes the BSFA Award shortlist – this is his ninth appearance. No one else writes anything like MacLeod and the membership have embraced him for that. The final novel on the shortlist, Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, didn’t place – I voted for it, Chris.
Perhaps appropriately the final slot on our list is shared by two entirely different novels; one from the very heart of British science fiction (Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds) and one from the slippery fringes (Hawthorn And Child by Keith Ridgway). This is a reminder of the depth and richness of speculative fiction, as is the fact that in all 51 titles received votes. That’s a year’s worth of reading for me, although much less for some of you!
BSFA Review Poll
1) Empty Space by M John Harrison
2) Jack Glass by Adam Roberts
3) 2313 by Kim Stanley Robinson
4) Communion Town by Sam Thompson
5) Extreme Metaphors, edited by Simon Sellars and Dan O’Hara
6) A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
=7) Boneland by Alan Garner
=7) Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
9) Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord
=10) Hawthorn And Child by Keith Ridgway
=10) Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
- The Angel Of Revolution by George Griffith and The Purple Cloud by MP Shiel – Reviewed by LJ Hurst
- Empty Space by M John Harrison (Gollancz, 2012) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
- Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (Gollancz, 2011) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven
- Intrusion by Ken MacLeod (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
- The Testament Of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (Sandstone Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Sue Thomason
- Osiris by EJ Swift (Night Shade Books, 2012) – Reviewed by Karen Burnham
- Shift by Kim Curran and Katya’s World by Jonathan L Howard (Strange Chemistry, 2012) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- Blackwood by Gwenda Bond and The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Strange Chemistry 2012) – Reviewed by Cherith Baldry
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Hodder and Stoughton, 2011) – Reviewed by Liz Bourke
- Dust by Joan Frances Turner (Penguin, 2011) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
- Timeless by Gail Carriger (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Liz Bourke
- The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky (Hodder & Staunton, 2011) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- The Devil’s Diadem by Sara Douglass (Voyager, 2011) – Reviewed by Nic Clarke
- The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury, 2011) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
- Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann 2012) – Reviewed by Jim Steel
- Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham
- Kultus by Richard Ford (Solaris, 2011) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
- The Ritual by Adam Nevill (Pan MacMillan, 2011) – Reviewed by Stephen Deas
- The Mall by SL Grey (Corvus, 2011) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- The Greyfriar and The Rift Walker by Clay and Susan Griffith (Pyr, 2010, 2011) – Reviewed by Patrick Mahon
- To Indigo by Tanith Lee (Immanion Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
- Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord (Jo Fletcher Books, 2012) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- The Minority Council by Kate Griffin, (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham
- Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot Books, 2012) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
- This Is The Quickest Way Down by Charles Christian (Proxima, 2011) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
- Take No Prisoners by John Grant (Infinity Plus, 2011) – Reviewed by Tony Keen
- Mythanimus by Storm Constantine (Immanion Press, 2011) – Reviewed by Sue Thomason
- Words Of Re-enchantment by Anthony Nanson (Awen, 2011) – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham