Over on his Livejournal, Neil Clarke has been doing some analysis of short fiction category of the Locus Recommended Reading List. The numbers are quite an eye-opener. I knew we had done well, but it hadn’t occurred to me as even possible that we would tie with Asimov’s for the most selected stories. We did, with 7 each. Am I proud? You bet!
The trend towards fiction from online venues continues, and this is the first year that more short stories have come from online venues than from print magazines and books.
Also worth noting is that 38 of the 68 stories are by women. Six of Clarkesworld’s seven recommended stories are by women.
Meanwhile on Twitter there has been a great deal of fuss. It has been created by what I’m starting to think of as the UKIP wing of British fandom, because the people concerned are constantly whining about being oppressed by Locus and the Hugos in pretty much the same way as right-wing tabloid newspapers whine about being oppressed by the EU.
There story here is that a vicious cabal of Evil Americans (such as Jonathan Strahan, John Clute, Graham Sleight, Farah Mendlesohn, Tansy Rayner Roberts and myself) gather together each year to plot the downfall of British science fiction by picking only American works for the Recommended Reading List. This year, apparently, we were worse than usual, with the list being hideously skewed towards US writers, magazines and publishers. That, of course, is all part of my Evil Plan. So I decided to look at some numbers to see how Evilly I had done.
I’ve looked only at the three adult novel categories as those are the only ones I have significant input to. As a benchmark, I’m going to use the fact that there are roughly 5 times as many Americans in the world as British people, so if the list had been chosen purely at random there would be 5 Americans for every British writer. (I am assuming here that American and British writers have equal access to publishing opportunities. As far as I know, no one is arguing that they don’t. This is not analogous to a gender or race issue where there may be barriers to entry.)
There are 17 novels on the science fiction list. 11 are by Americans. Greg Egan is Australian. Canada would kill me if I identified Bill Gibson as American, even though he was born there. Johanna Sinisalo is Finnish. And three (McDonald, Reynolds, Banks) are British. That gives us 11.5 Americans to 3 British, which is about what we would expect. Must try harder!
On the Fantasy list there are 24 novels. 14 are by Americans. Michael Ajvaz is Czech, Lauren Beukes is South African, and Guy Gavriel Kay is Canadian. The other 7 (Fforde, Fox, Gilman, Miéville, Mitchell, Pinborough and Stross) are all British. So that’s a ratio of 14:7. And that, apparently, is hideous anti-British bias. Hmm.
The one that surprised me was the First Novel list. Of 15 entries, 11 were by Americans, but there was not a single Brit amongst them. At last, my Evil Plan is working. Possibly. I’ll come back to it in a minute.
Of course if you are of a UKIP frame of mind there’s little that can sway you from your feelings of oppression. There is always some excuse for why things that are doing well and appear to be British are in fact not so. For example, some of those “British” writers live in America (Gilman) or, heaven forbid, in Edinburgh! (Stross). Then again, most of them have US publishers as well as British contracts. This, I suspect, will be held up as evidence that they are writing “American” fiction, and therefore don’t count. The assumption being that if they wrote “British” fiction it would be too intelligent and left-wing for an American audience and American publishers would not buy it.
My explanation is a little different. The US publishers are well aware that British writers are very good, and so anyone from these isles who gets a bit of critical attention gets snapped up for a US contract. As the UK market is much smaller, it is much less likely that a successful US writer would get a UK contract.
Complicating matters is the international nature of publishing. Orbit, for example, tend to buy world rights to books, but it is British editor Tim Holman, based in New York, who calls the shots. Angry Robot has a US branch, but they are headquartered in Nottingham.
One area where you might expect British publishers to score is in First Novel, because the writers there might be people who were discovered by a UK operation and have not yet got a US contract. As I noted, none of the First Novel authors are British. However, three of the four non-US authors were first contracted by British publishers. That’s Terry Dowling (Australian), Hannu Rajaniemi (Finnish) and Lavie Tidhar (Israeli). So the reason why there are no British authors on the First Novel list is, at least in part, because British publishers are looking outside the UK for new talent.
Finally a brief word on magazines. The absence of Interzone from the list is obviously a clear indication of anti-British bias, right? All the other magazines are “American”. But, as noted above, a lot of the short fiction is now coming from online venues. That means that they are edited by Evil Americans like me and (as of this year in the top job at Strange Horizons) Niall Harrison.
I took a look at the numbers for Clarkesworld’s 2010 stories. 14 of the 24 were by Americans. The other authors came from a variety of countries including two British and one Irish. Non-fiction is mostly American, but I get so few submissions that it is really hard to get much diversity into the selection. In cover art, however, where excellent command of English is not required, the picture is quite different. Only 3 of the 2010 covers were by Americans. There were 2 from Brazil, 2 from Turkey, and one each from Russia, France, Bulgaria, the Phillipines and Mexico. So yeah, clearly Clarkesworld is an Evil American magazine.
Anyway, enough bashing of the English for now. Time to watch them getting bashed on the rugby field instead (I hope).