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Posts Tagged ‘arthur c clarke award

Your Chance To Second Guess Me

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The list of submissions for this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award have just been published at Torque Control. As with last year, there is a prize for guessing the shortlist of six novels (due to be announced at the end of March). No one managed to guess all six last year – in fact, four out of six was the best – so will the judges be able to completely confound fans again this time?

Of course, the guessing already started a while ago. Last week I put Lavie Tidhar on the spot on Twitter and asked him to predict the shortlist. He came up with the following six: Embassytown, The Islanders, Ready Player One, By Light Alone, The Company Man and Wake Up And Dream. He added that he’d be glad with hitting three out of six. Well, as it turns out, he can only have guessed a maximum of four of the shortlist since Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett weren’t submitted. It is possible that other novels which people might have thought were contenders weren’t submitted either; having heard Martin McGrath advocate for it, I would certainly have liked to have seen City Of Bohane by Kevin Barry. Fans of children’s literature will also notice that not much was submitted. No Blood Red Road by Moira Young, for example.

But there you go: the field is big, it isn’t neatly distributed and the very concept of science fiction is often in the eye of the beholder. There were sixty novels submitted this year which is huge amount to read and covers the vast majority of the field. It is also more than enough to produce an excellent shortlist (go on, I dare you to guess it). However, one of the big strengths of the Arthur C Clarke Award is the fact it aspires to be completely comprehensive, to cover as much of the UK science fiction field as humanly possible, so I hope all publishers will continue to take a broad view of what constitutes science fiction in the future.

Written by Martin

27 February 2012 at 14:36

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Lewis’s Revelation

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Today I saw someone on the internet say that 90% of everything is crud. Now, I have complained about Sturgeon’s Revelation before. It is, in a word, balls. I know, I know, someone is wrong on the internet, so what? But the thoughtlessness of the statement still offends me and its persistence depresses me.

Then I remembered that I love evidence. I could, in fact, test Sturgeon’s Revelation against the 54 novels submitted for the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award, a selection of novels that we’ve agreed form a pretty good proxy for British science fiction as a whole. So, was 90% of everything crud?

Taking a liberal approach to the word “crud”, you could perhaps claim that 72% of science fiction published in Britain in 2010 was crud. So now we can obviously extrapolate from this that 72% of everything is crud. I call this Lewis’s Revelation. But wait! What if I asked one of my fellow judges to provide their own percentages? Or I repeated this exercise again for the 2012 Arthur C Clarke Award? Or I took it upon myself to read every science fiction novel published in the US in 2010? Or every thriller? Wouldn’t the percentages change? Why, it is almost as if Lewis’s Revelation is meaningless. Funny that.

Written by Martin

17 March 2011 at 20:44

2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Statistics

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Very often I will discuss specific novels on the internet. Very often this discussion will turn to wider trends. What such discussion almost always lacks is any evidence base. If you think that fantasy is becoming more popular whilst science fiction is becoming less popular then you might have some joy with the Locus year in review issue which track headline figures like these. Unfortunately they don’t publish them online. For a whole host of other questions – Are female writers are less common than in the recent past? Is everything part of a series these days? Has science fiction retreated from space? Is it true that sex is rare but violence is endemic? – you are unlikely to find evidence anywhere.

This was at the back of my mind when I started reading submissions for the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award. The Clarke Award is for the best science fiction published in Britain and being a judge gives you a fairly comprehensive overview of British science fiction. Not entirely comprehensive – some novels will always slip through the cracks – but non-genre publishers actively submit their work and the judges deliberately seek out other eligible work so it covers a large percentage of the territory. This struck me as an opportunity to gather evidence. As I was reading, I started to make notes about the novels and I’ve now published these in five posts:

My methodology probably wouldn’t pass muster is a social research organisation. Some of my categories might be poorly worded or thought through. I may have missed things, I may have mis-recorded things. Nonetheless, I think (I certainly hope) that this is still useful evidence in the ongoing conversation about what science fiction is and what we want it to be.

This information only refers to books published in 2010 so it doesn’t tell us anything about trends. However, I hope that it will inspire some additional evidence gathering. For example, very basic information like number of books submitted by individual publishers should be easily available. Some of the information about the authors (nationality and sex) and the books (type and maybe length) shouldn’t be hard to find either. And then there is looking forward. I am a judge again this year and I will be keeping my notes again but there is no reason why this couldn’t be formalised.

I have found this process fascinating. Of course, I am primarily interested in the individual novels themselves; it has been a privilege to be a judge and I think we have a cracker of a shortlist. But I am also interested in the big picture and hopefully this makes that picture a little clearer.

Written by Martin

2 March 2011 at 15:41

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2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Statistics: Sex And Violence

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The last post talked about the general characteristics of contemporary science fiction. Now I want to talk about a specific pair of issues.

In the real world, sex is a good thing and violence is a bad thing. Yet there is a feeling – one I share – that science fiction is overly bloodthirsty whilst simultaneously too childishly squeamish about sex. And the stats reflect this. In the real world, a single murder would be extremely notable; in science fiction, this is small beer:

What goes around, comes around:

Don’t worry though, death is not the end!

I also looked at rape since its depiction in fiction is so controversial and it is often not felt to be well handled in genre fiction.

From these statistics I have excluded Blood And Iron by Tony Ballantyne which includes robot “rape”. Whilst it is stated in the novel to be directly analoguous to human rape I am not comfortable grouping the two together. However, I have included Sylvow by Douglas Thompson which features rape by an intelligent tree.

Science fiction is happy to deal in extremes like this but I wondered how it fared on a more domestic level. As well as looking at sex itself, I also looked at whether any protagonists started the novel in a relationship.

So a protagonist in a science fiction novel is more likely to kill someone than have sex and yes, it does seem authors are much more squeamish about depicting sex than violence.

Written by Martin

2 March 2011 at 14:07

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2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Statistics: The State Of The Art #2

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It is usually pretty clear if your narrator is an alien but we are heading into more subjective territory now. We can still be relatively certain about setting though. I say “relatively” because, for example, when and where is Above The Snowline by Steph Swainston set? Anyway:

I think there is plenty of ammunition for those who think that science fiction has turned its back on space. Perhaps more surprising is that it appears to be turning its back on the future; fully a third of submissions were set either in the past or the present. Of course, just because something is submitted for the Arthur C Clarke Award, that doesn’t necessarily make it science fiction.

Again, that is third of all submission, a frankly huge proportion. But just because a story contains a fantasy element doesn’t mean it isn’t science fiction. The boundary between the fantastic and the mimetic is pretty clear but within speculative fiction borders are blurred and, it would seem, becoming more so. Where, for example, do zombies and vampires fall? Purists will be pleased to know that such creatures remain a minority though. The good old spaceship continues to be the core trope of the genre (with their steampunk brethren still some way behind).

Which brings us to the hardest quality to assess: subgenre. As I was making notes, only a couple of obvious subgenres emerged. At the end of the process, I tried to grouped together further but the books collected under the same umbrella are pretty disparate. This speaks to the fragmentation of the genre. It also means I will be usually tags next year and giving up on the idea that most SF novels are primarily of a single subgenre.

As you would expect, space opera is popular. But whilst it still makes up only 15% of submissions and post-collapse (where civilisation has been destroyed thanks to zombies, climate change, capitalism or the actual apocalypse) make up the same percent. This is the dual nature of science fiction: space opera written within the genre, post-collapse written without. Singularity SF continues to have its own coherent identity but after that cross-genre characteristics become much more important.

Written by Martin

2 March 2011 at 08:03

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2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Statistics: The State Of The Art #1

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Having dispensed with the state of the industry, let’s actually look inside the books.

A fairly predictable split between first and third person. A handful of authors wrote in both but no one was brave or mad enough to go for second person. Charles Stross is one author who has previously risked the second person; in The Fuller Memorandum, he cunningly deploys what we might call the hypothetical third person but I’ve put it down as first person. Similarly, Generosity is actually narrated by its author, Richard Powers, but I’ve put it down as the third person it more usually resembles.

So the good news is that women are well represented and only two novels have multiple male narrators but no female counterpoint: Black Hand Gang by Pat Kelleher (which focusses on a bunch of First World War soldiers) and Guardians Of Paradise by Jainne Fenn (which focusses on the male sides of a love triangle). However, male viewpoint characters still clearly outweigh female viewpoint characters and multiple female viewpoints simply don’t exist.

More troubling is what these statistics might mask. As I was noting down the stats for this I soon realised I should have been recording the number of viewpoint characters. For example, how often is that “Multiple Mixed” four men and one woman? It is clear that most authors believe a story with mulitple protagonists must feature a woman but it is less clear from these stats whether this is simply a tokenistic response. I do have another proxy measure though:

Whilst it is pleasing to see a majority of novels passing the Bechdel Test that is a pretty narrow margin. If the diversity of the characters is greater than the diversity of theirauthors then it still isn’t much to shout about. For example, the narrator of a science fiction novel is more likely to be an alien or a robot than gay or bisexual:

I would caution that all these stats should be taken with a pinch of salt because my primary purpose in reading these books was artistic rather than scientific. I may have missed things. However, I am confident that they are relatively robust.

Written by Martin

1 March 2011 at 15:25

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2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Statistics: The State Of The Industry

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The full list of novels submitted for the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award has been published at Torque Control. This isn’t a shortlist, it is a list of every novel – submitted directly by publishers or called in by the judges – that has been entered for the award.

I am one of this year’s judges so I know the shortlist. It will be revealed on Friday but I would encourage you to guess the shortlist because a) I like seeing what other people think will be on there and b) you could win all the novels plus Fables From The Fountain. In the meantime, here are some stats I’ve noted down as I’ve been reading my way through the submissions.

Who is publishing science fiction?

As you might expect, the majority of submissions were from the major science fiction imprints:

Submissions By Type Of Publisher

That leaves still leaves almost a third from other sources though. This is one of the stats that I would particularly like to see longitudinal data as I’m sure the amount of science fiction coming from non-genre imprints and small presses has increased. All in all, 22 different publishers submitted work.

Still, it it is clear that the big three still the roost. Or perhaps that is just the big one; Gollancz submitted more books than Orbit and Pan Macmillan combined. As I said, it would be fascinating to see how this changes over time. (By the way, small press encompasses an enormous range of publishers from Granta, the independent literary press, to what are clearly vanity publishers.)

Who is being published?

Guess what? It is straight, white men. If the diversity of publishers is encouraging, the diversity of their authors is not.

Sex of Author

Race of Author

Sexuality of Author

When it comes to nationality, the picture is a little more diverse:

But not much. It is clear that the US and UK completely dominate British science fiction publishing:

Nationality by Continent

Anglo-American Dominance

Written by Martin

28 February 2011 at 22:09

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As you should know by now, I am the reviews editor for Vector, the critical journal of the BSFA. I’ve been in post since the beginning of the year, beavering away, but this week my first issue was published. Yay! I feel like a proud father. (If you are a reader and you have any views on it, please feel free to leave a comment here or at the BSFA forum.)

One of the changes I’ve made is the egotistical decision to give myself a column at the front of the reviews section to bang on about whatever I fancy. I will be re-printing these columns on this here blog, starting this afternoon. You lucky people.

I am also one of the judges for this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award. Judges are sworn to special SF omerta so basically I am going to be keeping schtum about new science fiction for the foreseeable future. That is all.

Written by Martin

5 August 2010 at 07:51

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Roll Them Bones

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So the Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist is out and my quick and dirty guess was pretty good, predicting four of the six. As with last year, here are my odds for the actual winner:

The City & The City by China Mieville – 2/1
Spirit by Gwyneth Jones – 4/1
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts – 6/1
Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson – 9/1
Far North by Marcel Theroux – 9/1
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding – 12/1

A good, varied shortlist but I still reckon The City & The City is out in front.

Written by Martin

31 March 2010 at 09:47

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Song Of Stone

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So Song Of Time by Ian R MacLeod has won the 2009 Arthur C Clarke Award which means I wasn’t too far off. Congratulations to him, although I’m sure it is as tedious as his other work. (I did not, of course, discover this news through poor, ignored SF Crowsnest.)

Written by Martin

30 April 2009 at 13:02