Archive for the ‘awards’ Category
In the blue corner, Tom Hunter #TeamShortlist:
Now with us regularly receiving over 100 books a year, the question we’re asking is, rather than mess around longlists why not just get straight to the point with a bigger shortlist that would allow the judges to highlight more books in one larger shortlist to rule them all?
Eight books might work well again, or even twelve which is the number some people have suggested as a longlist figure, so again why bother calling it a longlist, let’s just have more people actually shortlisted — it looks better on the cover of a book for a start
Would a larger shortlist be more of a focal point for both debate and promotion than the staggered and potentially fatiguing extra step of a longlist? I’ll leave that idea hanging for now, but for me this feels like more of a new move than the idea of copying a longlist format from another award, and feels somehow more in the spirit of Sir Arthur to me.
In the red corner, Niall Harrison #TeamLonglist:
I still think a larger shortlist is a really bad idea. I’m particularly alarmed that it might be done because it is “new” (or, I guess, “distinctive”). Obviously six books is an arbitrary number, but there are good reasons why you very rarely see shortlists — for any award, in or out of genre — of more than six. I’d say the two main ones are:
1) The more books you add, the more of a commitment reading the shortlist becomes. That means fewer people will want to do it; more people will be likely to pick and choose, or just wait for the winner and only read that.
2) I don’t believe adding more books will extend the same amount of prestige to those books. I think the same amount of prestige will be divided up into smaller portions. It will be perceived as “easier” to make the shortlist, and doing so will be valued less.
In contrast, when thinking about a longlist:
1) Not many people will read a longlist. But there will be a hard-core of people invested in the award who will look at it, and start to create some discussion. A longlist feels to me like a participatory gesture: I’m not necessarily part of the process, but I’m reading along with the process. Moreover, as Nick H said in one of these threads, it puts the industry on notice and gives them time to prepare for a shortlist.
2) A longlist creates an interim level of prestige. It helps to mark out “writers to watch”, it gives you that tool to bring more books into the Clarke discussion. If anything it increases the value of shortlisting, because (hopefully) it makes clear how hard-won a shortlist place really is.
Context is for the weak but here you go.
It goes without saying that I’m #TeamLonglist.
Having discussed the administration and structure or the Arthur C Clarke Award, I’m now going to move onto the composition and reception of its shortlists.
What is the best Clarke shortlist? Okay, too hard. There are shortlisted books I’ve never heard of by authors who don’t even have Wikipedia pages. So what is the best shortlist of the last fifteen years (ie half the life of the award)? My personal picks would be 2010 and 2008. But, as Nina Allan noted in the piece that inspired my blog posts, John Jarrold hated the 2008 shortlist to the extent he felt the need to invoke Hiroshima. So, obviously, opinions differ. And the opinions of the judges themselves differ: some novels will be unanimously shortlisted and some will come down to a vote and we have no way of knowing which are which.
Instead of getting too much into good or bad, I’m going to talk more broadly about the composition of recent shortlists, their reception and our expectation. At the back of my mind will be the repeated suggestion that the award is not as exciting/radical/interesting/useful as it used to be.
2001, the first year of the period I’m looking at, was an all genre shortlist. In fact for the six year block between 1999 and 2004, every shortlist was entirely genre. The only time this has happened since was in 2014. This is worth bearing in mind when recent shortlists have sometimes been described as disappointingly core genre.
The only all British shortlist was in 2008, although we could probably also include 2006 as the eventual winner Geoff Ryman is a long term UK resident. In contrast, there have been non-majority British shortlists for the four years 2011 to 2014 as well as in 2003 and 2004.
This suggests a bit of a recent Golden Age for the award between 2005 and 2010 when the award produced strong British-dominated shortlists of high quality genre and non-genre science fiction. (Which is not to say they are all great – 2007, in particularly, continues to look a bit baffling.) My unsupported guess is that a lot of current Clarke commentators became involved with the award during this period.
Following the Genre Age and the Golden Age, we then have a third age from 2012. Yes, I jumped over 2011 as it seems to me to be a strong, radical and anomalous shortlist. I would also describe it – along with 2008 and 2013, the two year’s Allan identifies – as a split genre/non-genre shortlist. Patrick Ness had not (and has not since) published an adult science fiction novel and whilst Tim Powers clear had, this wasn’t readily apparent to anyone of my generation in Britain until Corvus belatedly picked him up here.
Anyway, back to 2012 and Allan’s description of the shortlist:
The 2012 shortlist, more now even than then, looks like a classic botch job: a set of random compromises, the result inevitably arrived at when five individuals of differing tastes and mixed critical abilities fail to form a coherent vision and resort instead to horse-trading,
Perhaps that lack of coherence is the defining feature of this Third Age. And perhaps that lack of coherence is understandable when the number of submissions to the award has radically increased from 41 in 2010 at the end of the Golden Age to 60 in 2012 and 113 this year.
Moving from the shortlists themselves to their reception, the single most important thing for the Arthur C Clarke Award in recent memory was when Adam Roberts published this review of the 2002 shortlist at Infinity Plus. He repeated this in 2003 and 2004 before moving to Strange Horizons. The second most important thing was when Niall Harrison at both Torque Control and Strange Horizons gave a home for discussion of the award.
Although I don’t believe Christopher Priest had read the 2012 shortlist when he published “Hull 0: Scunthorpe 3”, I do think it was a positive intervention for the award. We all need to have our feet held to the fire occasionally. However, it is ludicrously self-aggrandising to claim any more for it than that. The most important critical interventions of that year were from Dan Hartland, David Hebblethwaite, Maureen Kincaid Speller and Adam Roberts.
Yet Allan suggests: “In the four years since Priestgate, rigorous online discussion of the shortlists seems to have nosedived and atrophied.” If so, why? The criteria that allowed those reviews from Hartland, Hebblethwaite, Kincaid Speller and Roberts to arise were:
- A vibrant online scene
- Sufficient time to read the books
- Sufficient interest in the shortlist
Well, we’ve heard a lot about about the death of SF blogging recently (here is a good post on the subject) but the blogs that are dying are not the sort of blogs that would ever have reviewed the Clarke shortlist. Time might be an issue and, as discussed, it might be helpful to standardise the announcement of the award. Which leaves interest.
Perhaps it isn’t that surprising that people are less engaged with the award now than they were at the beginning of the Third Age in 2012, particularly if they became most interested during the Golden Age. There is also the elephant in the room of the Kitschies. I think these awards could accurately be described as the worst thing that happened to the Clarke Award since the only game in town suddenly had a competitor and a competitor with a rather broader remit. I am more interested in this year’s Red Tentacle shortlist than I am in this year’s Clarke shortlist.
I think a longlist for the Clarke Award would be nice but I don’t think it will change this. But I’m not sure how much needs to change. The amount of critical coverage at the end of the Golden Age was probably abnormally high and even then the number of people involved was actually pretty low. For the same people to stay engaged, year after year, is a huge investment of time. Even the indefatigable Adam Roberts said today that “The days when I’d review the entire Clarke shortlist are behind me now”.
But what goes around, comes around and I’m sure that new critical voices will rise to engage (and old ones to re-engage). If that all sounds complacent then I’m not sure what the alternative is. The award will continue and the conversation will continue but it will ebb and flow. It is entirely possible that someone entering the genre now will not have the same relationship with the award that we do but I doubt our relationship is the same as those who established it.
Inspired by Nina Allan’s recent post, I’d like to say a few things about the Arthur C Clarke Award. In particular, I’d like to discuss:
- The structure and administration of the award
- The composition and reception of its shortlists
- The award as barometer of British SF publishing
In the olden days, I’d have bunged this all into a single post but if I don’t chunk it up, I fear it won’t get written. This post will focus on 1) and hopefully I will return to the other two later. (I’d also like to return to another issue Allan raised – the concept of a British SF ‘hub’ – but don’t hold your breath.)
Let me preface these remarks with a bit of context. I have been interested and engaged with the award since Jeff Noon won for Vurt in 1994. I feel hugely proud and privileged to have been a judge in 2011 and 2012. Funding was abruptly withdrawn during this period and without current director Tom Hunter, the award could well have died on its arse. So this is not about criticism, this is about potential ways to strengthen the award for the future. I think this could easily be done in two ways:
- Introducing a longlist
- Standardising the timetable for the award
Hunter is to be congratulated for many of the innovations during his tenure and one of the big ones is releasing the submissions list. As I understand it, the submissions list prior to Hunter have been destroyed which is a real shame as they are very valuable before for understanding where the shortlists come from but also for giving an insight into SF publishing more broadly (see 3) above). But a submissions list is not a longlist, although authors occasionally try to misrepresent it as such. A longlist gives another opportunity for publicity but also, crucially, debate.
Every year there are unaccountable omissions from the shortlist. Allan’s post refers to Priestgate during which Christopher Priest identified Wake Up And Dream by Ian R MacLeod, Dead Water by Simon Ings, By Light Alone by Adam Roberts and Osama by Lavie Tidhar as essential for the shortlist. Would any, all or none of those have made a longlist? We will never know but it seems to me that it would have enriched the conversation. So I’m pleased that in his latest piece for the Guardian, Hunter has softened his line a bit on this: “There have also been many calls for us to introduce an annual longlist, in addition to our shortlist. There are good arguments for and against this, but it’s definitely worth the conversation if it will help highlight the increasing diversity of our genre.” Although worryingly, he continues: “If a longlist proves impractical, we’re also discussing the idea of increasing the number of titles on our shortlists as a route to highlighting more titles.” Don’t do it, Tom!
A longlist would also help with my second way of strengthening the award. Currently Hunter has control over publishing the submissions list and the awards ceremony itself but not the shortlist announcement as this tied to sponsors Sci-Fi London. The result has been the timing of the award has been a bit of a moveable feast. As Allan puts it: “Last year, for the first time in a long time, there was no comprehensive critical review of the Clarke Award shortlist at Strange Horizons and, because of inept programming and yet another shift in the timing of the award, no discussion of the shortlist at Eastercon either.” A longlist would be in Hunter’s control and could be made available at the same time every year, in advance of Eastercon. This isn’t quite the same as having the shortlist as reading a whole longlist is a pretty big ask but it would allow a bigger window of engagement.
The only barrier to both is a finite resource: the time of the judges. Since they have to produce what is essentially an internal longlist anyway in order to guide the shortlist discussion, I don’t think it is any extra effort for them. But with the ever expanding submissions list and the tendency of publishers to backload their submissions, there is a question about how long it takes them just to read all the books. I don’t think that is insurmountable though.
So yeah, I can see lots of benefits to those two proposals and no downsides. Who’s with me?
A sequel to that other post:
- Jonathan McCalmont has started reviewing the stories making up Sisters Of The Revolution, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. This makes me want to return (in a much more rigourous way) to my own read through of The Space Opera Renaissance. But it hasn’t happened yet.
- McCalmont also appears, as usual, in the latest Interzone which didn’t have a great issue for fiction. I don’t think Rich Larson has ever written a bad story but ‘Lotto’ was too abbreviated to be great. My favourite story probably wasn’t as good as ‘Lotto’ though. ‘Spine’ by Christopher Fowler is a Seventies throwback to the age of Peter Benchley which is a pure nostalgia rush.
- You might also remember I picked up Interzone’s sister magazine, The Third Alternative, in actual paper at Mancunicon. Turns out, if its not on my Kindle, I don’t read it (and if it is on my Kindle, I usually still don’t read it).
- My discovery of the month has been Kelly Robson (I know, I know, I’m late). ‘Two-Year Man’ reminds me a bit of A Day In The Deep Freeze – a crushing dystopia made all the more horrific for being so modest and the story made all the bleaker by the inextinguishable spark of humanity still present. ‘The Three Resurrections Of Jessica Churchill’ is equally well-written but a lot blunter.
- I also enjoyed ‘Between Dragons and Their Wrath‘ by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky which pulls off the trick of being Weird but not arbitrary and ‘The Sincerity Game’ by Brit Mandelo is one of those stories that doesn’t need the SF element (it is an acutely observed relationship story with some fiercely brilliant writing) yet it isn’t superfluous and adds an extra bit of flavour. Not as good as those but worth a read is ‘The Plague Givers’ by Kameron Hurley, published on her Patreon. It also makes me a bit sad as Hurley could’ve been the saviour of epic fantasy but modern publishing has made that impossible by pushing her into a succession of unnecessary trilogies.
- ‘The Plague Givers’ will be reprinted in Uncanny #10 which will also contain stories by JY Yang and Alyssa Wong so that looks like it will be pretty good. And Uncanny and Wong are up for Hugos (well, the Campbell in Wong’s case) so that is pretty good too.
- The Hugo short fiction categories are not pretty good because once again they’ve been hijacked by the Puppies. In Best Short Story, the most interesting looking title is Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle which tells you everything you need to know. I’ve no intention of reading the shortlist (as I did last year) but I have read ‘Asymmetrical Warfare’ by SR Algernon, a terrible bit of flash fiction which is still too long and essentially retreads Terry Bisson’s ‘They’re Made Out Of Meat’, and ‘If You Were An Award, My Love’ by Juan Tabo and S. Harris. I won’t like to the latter both because it is on Vox Day’s website and because it has no redeeming features whatsoever. It is essentially an offensively personal attack on John Scalzi which is dressed up as ‘If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love’ by two people who don’t understand what that story was about, don’t understand what a parody is, don’t understand what a pastiche is and basically don’t understand anything at all about writing. It is purely an attempt to poison the well and confirms that any higher motives the Puppies claimed to have were all lies.
- I thought at first I might read some of the Best Novelette shortlist because ‘And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead’ by Brooke Bolander and ‘Folding Beijing’ by Hao Jingfang, translated Ken Liu, are both published in real venues. However, the Bolander is just a written version of this song so I’ve lost interest. It was also nominated for the Nebula, a reminder that not everything bad in SF can be laid at the door of the Puppies.
- The Best Novella shortlist only contains one joke entry and two stories that I’d actually like to read: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor and Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (although vexingly the latter isn’t published in the UK for another year). And – shock, horror – I’ve already read one of the nominees! As the author readily admits, it is a joke premise (what if an anthropomorphic animal story was written for adult SF fans?) and the problem with a joke premise is that it rapidly becomes tiresome over this length, particularly since there is a real sense that Polansky is doing a lot of padding.
Every year I have good intentions of reading lots of short stories, identifying some real gems and then nominating them for the BSFA Awards. Most years I fail. So I am very pleased that the BSFA have now introduced a two-stage voting process where members can vote on a longlist of nominations. Given the size of the field and the difficulty of achieving blind consensus on the best short fiction published through nominations (witness the 2013 Hugo short story shortlist only having 3 nominees that had the minimum of 5% of nominations) this is a sensible change but on a personal level, it is hugely welcome because it allows me to re-engage with the field.
There are 41 stories on the longlist and I’ve read 34 of them. On that basis, my votes are:
- ‘A Day In The Deep Freeze’ by Lisa Shapter – Set in an anonymous mid-Twentieth Century America that hides something truly horrific, this is a remorseless novella that is completely unique and penetrates bone deep. This is the only one of my selections that isn’t available for free but you should buy it now.
- ‘The Game of Smash and Recovery by Kelly Link – It is a Link story and it is a very good Link story and it is science fiction. What more do you want?
- ‘Manifesto of the Committee to Abolish Outer Space’ by Sam Kriss – Combatative, creative non-fiction that is like nothing else on the longlist.
- ‘Elephants and Corpses’ by Kameron Hurley – One of only two secondary world fantasy stories, this is typical exuberant, inventive Hurley which is something this rather mannered longlist needed.
If I had four more votes, they would be for:
- ‘Fabulous Beasts’ by Priya Sharma – There are quite a few stories on the longlist that are essentially family sagas sharpened by the intrusion of the fantastic and this is the pick of the bunch.
- ‘Wooden Feathers’ by T Kingfisher – Like ‘Fabulous Beasts’, this does something relatively simple but does very economically and effectively.
- ‘Liminal’ Grid by Jaymee Goh – Most of the family sagas are fantasy but this story gains a lot more purpose by moving into the future.
- Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers’ by Alyssa Wong – Raw and a bit clumsy but also quite powerful.
My votes sort of accord with those of Nicholas Whyte but I’m looking forward to seeing what stories other people are going for. And I’m hoping to write more about the stories on the shortlist itself once it is announced.
As a break from writing, the art categories. Let’s start with Best Fan Artist since it is traditionally the worst category in the Hugos and even in the era of the Puppies when it has stiff competition, it is still pretty fucking bad.
1) Elizabeth Leggett – I hate the fan/pro distinction and think it should be abolished. I’m not clear why Leggett is a fan rather than a pro but regardless, she is the only artist in the category.
2) No Award
3) Spring Schoenhuth – A Finding Nemo/Dr Who mash-up and some average jewellery.
4) Steve Stiles – Shitty fanzine cartoons.
5) Ninni Aalto – A cartoon of Jeff VanderMeer as a mushroom. Nuff said.
6) Brad W Foster – Every single year. What the fuck?
And now Best Professional Artist which is better but not as much as you might hope:
1) Julie Dillon – Again, the only really artist here and also the only one to show any creativity at all (see my favourite image from here above). I’m not her biggest fan but she wins this by a country mile.
2) No Award
3) Nick Greenwood – Competent generic imagery.
4) Kirk DuoPonce -The Derek Zoolander of SF art.
5) Alan Pollock – A teenager’s sketches for a crap action movie.
6) Carter Reid – No contribution to the voter package.
After Best Fan Writer, we turn to my votes for Best Short Story:
1) No Award
2) ‘A Single Samurai’ by Steven Diamond
3) ‘Totaled’ by Kary English
4) ‘Turncoat’ by Steve Rzasa
5) ‘On A Spiritual Plain’ by Lou Antonelli
6) ‘The Parliament Of Beasts And Birds’ by John C Wright
As always, a line break indicates Double No Award and an asterisk indicates it isn’t even bloody eligible for the award. If you want to read more about my thoughts on the stories, Strange Horizons have just published my review of the shortlist:
This year, however, saw the return of organised slate voting under the banner of Sad Puppies—spearheaded by 2014 Hugo nominee, shit writer, and dumbass Brad Torgensen—and Rabid Puppies, spearheaded by 2014 Hugo nominee, shit writer, and total fucking scumbag Vox Day. In contrast to last year’s limited Sad Puppy success, this year their campaigns swept the board. There is only one non-Puppy story out of fifteen, and that story is only there because the Puppies managed to nominate an ineligible story from 2013 that was subsequently removed.
And why did they decide to wreck the Hugos in this fashion? To redress a balance. To remove all the Politically Correct crap that has clogged up the award for so long and replace it with honest, hardworking, conservative, Christian fiction. As Torgersen so memorably put it: “Nutty Nuggets, Nutty Nuggets, Nutty Nuggets, Nutty Nuggets, Nutty Nuggets, Nutty Nuggets.” They have loudly proclaimed that the 2015 Hugo shortlists represent the very best fiction that this wing of fandom has to offer, so it seemed only fair to take them at their word. What unexpected delights would I find amongst this treasure trove of under-acclaimed fiction? If you’ve read anything that any of the Puppies have ever written, I think you can see where this is heading; I intended to read all three short fiction categories but I gave up after Best Story.
That isn’t quite true, I actually managed to read one of the Best Novellettes. At 7,500 to 17,500 words, the stories in this spurious category can be less concerned about economy which is just as well as Edward M Lerner isn’t at all concerned with economy. ‘Championship B’tok’ is structured as a mini-novel with 10 chapters that hop from viewpoint to viewpoint and those annoying infodumps dressed up as documents from the future (the cringe-inducingly named Internetopedia). After a few stretches of his fingers, I’m sure Lerner could type this stuff all day without breaking a sweat. In fact, this is the eighth story in his Interstellar Net space opera series and there are constant reference to previously described events and gaps where knowledge is assumed. So instead of a premise, we have plot – or rather pieces of plot from a megatext. Doughty human spy-spy Carl Rowland must outwit the inscrutably cunning Snakes, intern aliens who don’t know their place, whilst journalist-spy Corinne Elman is investigating a galaxy-spanning conspiracy. Are the two connected!? As the title suggests, it is a load of old arse. The first chapter is entirely unconnected to the following nine, the final chapter doesn’t resolve anything, really the story is only notable for Lerner’s touchingly misplaced faith in the rule of law.
You can see why a story as strenuously undemanding and casually conservative as this appeals to Puppy voters though. Not to mention parochial; as is so often the case, the imagined future is actually a projected mid-20th Century America is which Walter Cronkite (born 1916) is a relevant journalistic benchmark and impressionism (most prominent in the late 1800s) is considered outré. The central game of B’tok, which turns out to not be very important at all, is a recreation of the Battle of Midway. I am too young, too foreign, too interested in literature to be the audience for this work. So I take my hat off to Chance Morrison who is reading them all.