Summarised by Nina Allan
It’s been a long wait, but finally the day of the Clarke Award ceremony is here and in a very few hours we will learn the identity of this year’s winner.
It’s been a long road for the Sharkes, too. We’ve been reading, reviewing and discussing the submissions and contenders for more than half a year, and if our weekend ruminations on the matter of picking an eventual winner revealed anything, it was a sense of regret, that from an initial stockpile of seemingly infinite possibilities, our final deliberations would necessarily come to revolve around just six shortlisted titles. It was perhaps also inevitable that the number of books we finally rated as serious contenders came out still fewer.
As regards the Sharke winner, the race was between Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station, and Martin MacInnes’s Infinite Ground. But whilst Infinite Ground enjoyed passionate support from two or three jurors in particular, and Central Station ran a close second for pretty much the entire jury, in the end it was The Underground Railroad that came through as the clear winner. ‘The Whitehead is a phenomenal book,’ Vajra said, summing up our discussions. ‘In my reading, the very core of science fiction is not novelty, but freedom: that is, emancipation. By this measure The Underground Railroad is as core as core science fiction can possibly be, and the extent to which this is contested is an indictment of the state of discourse in science fiction itself. I would like to see it win all the awards and be firmly planted in this soil so that a better science fiction could grow from here. It’s not Whitehead that needs it so much as the rest of us.’
Personally, I don’t think I’ve seen a better or more eloquent argument for crowning Whitehead’s novel the winner and so we did:
The Sharkes’ choice: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Placing our bets on the official Clarke winner has proved much more difficult. In this case, our aim was not to pick our own preferred candidate from the shortlist, but to guess what the official jury might choose, and the idiosyncratic nature of the shortlist itself has made this close to impossible. There are those among the Sharkes who detect all the hallmarks of a hung jury: the supporters of Whitehead and Tidhar on the one hand ranged against the supporters of Newman and Chambers on the other, with Lee and Sullivan presenting the best compromise choices between the two. Other Sharkes are less certain about this theory, but we all agreed that with a shortlist this varied, literally any one of the six candidates could emerge the winner.
We had to pick something, though, and after a considerable amount of back-and-forth, a consensus of sorts began to emerge. ‘I would put the Whitehead first, and I also predict it will win the actual award,’ Nick stated. Paul disagreed: ‘My preference would be for Whitehead, my prediction is Lee’. ‘While my heart wants the Whitehead, and my head hopes that it will at least be the Tidhar, my gut is inclining very much to the Lee,’ Maureen concurred. So too did Jonathan: ‘I think Tidhar should win it, but suspect that Lee actually will’.
We all felt that whilst Ninefox Gambit is very much a traditional space opera, it also presents some interesting variations on that tried-and-tested formula by being more ambitious in terms of its concept, more inventive in its use of language, more diverse in relation to its character demographic. For all these reasons – together with the fact that we all, to varying degrees, found things in this novel to admire – we came eventually to the conclusion that Ninefox Gambit would be the title inside that envelope:
The Sharkes’ prediction: Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee
Not long to go now before we know for sure. In the run-up to that announcement, we would like to thank Helen Marshall and Anglia Ruskin for being such marvellously supportive hosts and facilitators for this project. We would also like to thank everyone who has been reading along with us and offering their insights and comments, and to wish all six candidates the very best of luck for this evening.
We hope the Sharke will swim on, in whatever guise, in years to come. We wouldn’t have missed this for anything.