By Megan AM
If you base the current state of SF on the 86 publisher blurbs for books on the 2017 Arthur C. Clarke award submissions list, you’d think SF ended with Iain M. Banks, Michael Crichton, and Cormac McCarthy, and would have to assume current writers have nothing else to do but rehash the old tried-and-true formulas. Fortunately, some fresh, exciting stuff exists on the submissions list, which suggests this assumption isn’t true; certainly enough a make a reliable longlist to share with readers who would be grateful for a little editing. I hope this shadow jury project can help other readers parse out an interesting longlist.
My shortlist is primarily based on optimism– being impressed by the multiple things these novels are attempting to do– and, to quote Nina Allan’s recent introduction, “to pay sufficient attention to the ‘novel’ part of the equation.” It includes books I might not love, but I would like to see discussed in relation to more popular books that have a better chance of landing on the official shortlist. I have followed only one firm rule: I will not include any previous Clarke award winners. This omits Chris Beckett, Paul McAuley, China Miéville, Claire North, Christopher Priest, and Tricia Sullivan. In a couple of cases, this rule made my shortlist picks more difficult, but I’m a big proponent of the one-and-done rule (or won-and-done, rather) because it’s only too obvious SF awards culture likes to chase its tail.
In that same spirit, I have also chosen to set aside the celebrated The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, a novel I have read and been intrigued by its SF context, and which might have otherwise earned a position on my shortlist if it had been less famous.
After 86 books, including 23-ish space operas; 23-ish action-y thrillers of some YA/dystopia/hist-fic/cli-fi blend; a handful of SF-realism; a steampunk caper; a 1980’s reprint; and three books written by the same guy (all with “The Girl” in the titles); here are what I think are the six most interesting and promising choices on the 2017 Clarke award submissions list:
The Destructives — Matthew De Abaitua (Angry Robot)
Good Morning, Midnight — Lily Brooks-Dalton (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson)
A Field Guide to Reality — Joanna Kavenna (riverrun)
The Core of the Sun — Johanna Sinisalo (Grove Press UK)
Central Station — Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)
The Lost Time Accidents — John Wray (Canongate)
(To be clear: This is not a prediction of the eventual, official shortlist.)
De Abaitua is one of the most interesting SF writers I have encountered recently, and this loose series of novels is cutting and complex. Brooks-Dalton seeks to blend Station Eleven style with a Kim Stanley Robinson focus; an approach I hope might provide an interesting comparison to whichever space story might end up on the official shortlist. Kavenna is a Granta award-winning author who toys with reality while remaining darkly ironic and humanist. Sinisalo, a star of the short fiction world, has produced a politically terrifying novel, reminiscent of John Brunner and Margaret Atwood, but with the creativity of the “Finnish weird.” Tidhar’s loosely-constructed novel about community at the base of a space station is bewildering and inventive. Wray’s ambitious take on time travel is literary and genre-bending, and has won praise from Marlon James and Jonathan Lethem.
It is my hope that my focus on these six novels will bring attention to good writing and depth of thought, while widening the conversation surrounding the Clarke award, the definition of science fiction, and what is actually ‘novel’ in this genre.
Megan AM is a lifetime SF fan, but a longtime sufferer of bland SF. She realizes now that this is the fault of the commercially-hyped SF publishing industry and spoonfed awards machine that insists on promoting cheesy, regurgitated SF, and she’s pissed off about all the good books she’s missed as a consequence. She blogs about her reading experiences at From couch to moon but she’s kind of bitter about it because it shouldn’t take this much work for a layreader like her to find inventive and well-written SF. She writes for no one.