Clarke Controversy Begins

The short list for this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award is as follows:

  • Zoo City, Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
  • The Dervish House, Ian McDonald (Gollancz)
  • Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness (Walker Books)
  • Generosity, Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
  • Declare, Tim Powers (Corvus)
  • Lightborn, Tricia Sullivan (Orbit)

I think it is a great list, but inevitably people will talk (and Tom Hunter keeps prodding us to do so). The first thing that everyone has noticed is that Tim Power’s Declare is an old book. It was first published in May 2000, when it co-won the World Fantasy Award and won the International Horror Guild Award. However, the Clarke is for books first published in the UK in the year of eligibility, and the first UK edition came out that year (thank you, Corvus!).

Also there’s a YA book on the list, which I’m sure someone will claim is evidence of “dumbing down”. It is not the first such book to make the Clarke short list — Stephen Baxter’s excellent The H-Bomb Girl was a nominee a few years back.

And of course there are two women authors listed, which is clear evidence of (all together now) Political Correctness Gone Mad! If you wish to further amuse yourselves, go take a look at the entries for the “Guess the Clarke Short List” contest over at Torque Control and see how many men guessed an all-male list.

Finally you may remember a few weeks ago some British fans getting hugely hot under the collar about the Locus Recommended Reading List being Anti-British. Why, Martin Lewis commented here that Adam Roberts’ New Model Army was “almost certainly” excluded from the list because it was only published in the UK. That, of course, was all the fault of Evil Americans like me. Fortunately the Clarke is good British award and can be relied upon not to succumb to cultural imperialism, can’t it?

Well there’s Lauren Beukes, of course — she’s South African. And Tim Powers is American. But that’s only two. What about the other four? Richard Powers is this year’s “who’s he?” entry, and it turns out that he’s American too, and lived for a while in Bangkok. Patrick Ness lives in London, but he was born and raised in the USA. Tricia Sullivan is a past Clarke winner, and also lives in the UK, but she too was born and raised in the USA. That leaves us with… Wait! Isn’t Ian McDonald Irish?

Actually, no. He was born in Manchester. He has lived most of his life in Belfast, but that too is officially part of the UK, even if a lot of its residents have objected violently to that fact. So despite having a Scottish name (or is McDonald an American name these days?) and living in Ireland, Ian represents our one True Brit entry on the short list. Churchill be praised!

Nevertheless, four Americans and a South African on a short list of six. That has to be suspicious, right? The jury must be made up of Evil Americans like me. Well, just in case the members of the BSFA want to grab torches and pitchforks and march upon the Clarke Mansion, there to drag the jurors out and hang them from the nearest oak tree, here are the people they need to look for: Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Liz Williams, Phil Nanson, Paul Skevington, Paul Billinger and Martin Lewis.

Oh dear.

I’m not sure if I will be able to stop laughing.

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29 Responses to Clarke Controversy Begins

  1. Harry Markov says:

    I thought that this would more about ARE these books science fiction kind of debate, because I don’t see Zoo City as SF. To me, Beukes wrote the Urban Fantasy novel of the decade, but it’s far from being eligible for a science fiction award. I do LOVE the novel, but seriously not seeing how it fits with it all.

    I have read review of the others, so I don’t know about the genre of it all.

    • Cheryl says:

      Zoo City was on the short list for the Crawford, which is specifically for fantasy novels. I remember defending it’s fantasy credentials in the discussions amongst the advisory group. But clearly the Clarke jury found an SF reading of the book that satisfied them. That’s fine by me.

      Also, Declare won the World Fantasy Award. 🙂

      • Harry Markov says:

        While I do agree that there is an element of trying to explain what is happening from a scientific standpoint, that is not the central way to read the novel, in the sense that is depicts how humans face a brand new mystery and try to explain [aka fail to explain].

  2. Tom Hunter says:

    Not too much sign of torches and pitchforks as eyt, but just in case you’ll be glad to know that this year’s Clarke Mansion is a highly mobile stealth fortress protected by a trained army of ninja monoliths

  3. Martha says:

    Is this the same Ian McDonald who is a guest of honour at Eurocon in Stockholm? I think I’m making a lame attempt at a joke.

    • Harry Markov says:

      Martha: You can peg it as ‘dripping with sarcasm’ & by adding a very suspicious “mhhhm” it would be quite biting. 😛

    • Sten says:

      Indeed it is. I am far too dense to figure out the joke, though. Care to elaborate?

      • I think it’s being implied that he’s secretly an over-the-top EU integrationaist who wants to see all of British publishing absorbed into some huge bureaucratic monstrosity based in Brussels, rather than a true British patriot. 🙂

        (Good to see you posting again, Cheryl! I was wondering if the updates were being blocked by the WordPress DDoS attack like so many other places…)

  4. Martha says:

    I’ll take whatever I can get.

  5. Adam Roberts says:

    Well, Cheryl: hard now for me to deny your final point here — the Clarke shortlist (the BSFA one too) provide strong supporting evidence that my novel was omitted from the Locus list not because of any anti-British sentiment but just because it’s not good enough to merit inclusion. A shame for me, perhaps, but not something for anyone else to lose sleep over, when the genre furnishes fans and readers with novels as strong as the ones mentioned in this post. Still, I’ll say this: I find the rather galumphingly sarcastic tone of this post hard to read.

    you may remember a few weeks ago some British fans getting hugely hot under the collar about the Locus Recommended Reading List being Anti-British. Why, Martin Lewis commented here that Adam Roberts’ New Model Army was “almost certainly” excluded from the list because it was only published in the UK. That, of course, was all the fault of Evil Americans like me.

    You sound aggrieved. But are you the one with the grievance? In the original post you responded to ‘British Fans’, like Martin Lewis, who wondered about the relative paucity of UK-only published titles on the Locus list by calling them racists — or more precisely, by saying that they were exactly like members of a political party (UKIP) characterised by its racist and xenophobic views. This isn’t a trivial accusation to make, it seems to me. Now one of the people you accused in such terms has been instrumental in choosing a shortlist that includes five Americans and one South African. I wonder if, rather than layering on more sarcasm, this might not be the time to say something like ‘I said that Lewis was effectively a member of UKIP; I was wrong’ …?

    On the other hand, I entirely agree with what you say about the people who guessed all-male shortlists ahead of the announcement. Stuipid. I tweeted as much on the 1st March; I also guessed correctly that Ness would be shortlisted, which I’m rather pleased about.

    • Cheryl says:

      Hello Adam,

      Many thanks for dropping by, and thanks also for the tweet about all-male shortlist guesses which I think I RT and which inspired me to investigate the phenomenon.

      As to the other matter, as I am sure you are aware, Locus takes a great deal of note of what happens in the UK. They run columns about forthcoming British books. They review them. They have people who are UK residents taking part in the process of creating the Recommended Reading List, and as I noted the number of British writers included on that list this year is rather large, especially when it comes to fantasy novels.

      Nevertheless, there are people who think that this substantial British presence is not enough, and that further recognition of British writers is appropriate. I can only assume that this comes from an innate sense of British cultural superiority on the part of those people.

      The sad things is, as Jeff VanderMeer pointed out in comments, that there are many areas where the List could be improved. It takes almost no notice of works published in languages other than English. The group of people who contribute to the list also appears to be lacking in people who read epic fantasy, paranormal romance, graphic novels, YA and various other areas. The existence of additional lists by Jeff, Gwenda Bond and Larry Nolen acknowledge this failing. I’d like to see those lists combined with the main one.

      However, complaints of anti-British bias are, I submit, without foundation, and furthermore are an attempt by people already luxuriating in significant levels of privilege to appropriate the role of oppressed victims. This annoys me, as does the assumption of cultural superiority by any national or racial group. It is the sort of behaviour I expect from people like UKIP. Hence a tendency towards sarcasm on my part. As someone who has indulged in a certain level of snark yourself, I’m sure you recognise the impulse, even if you don’t have the same triggers.

      Unfortunately there are always fans who can only assume malfeasance when others do not share their tastes. Thus, despite a proliferation of other potential explanations for the absence of your book, including gross lack of good taste on the part of those responsible, Mr. Lewis is almost certain that it was omitted due to anti-British prejudice. That’s spectacularly silly.

      And now we have the Clarke list, with its four American-born writers. What are we to assume? I like to think that Mr. Lewis fought a lone, rearguard action to the last beachhead on behalf of British writers, but was mercilessly gunned down by Stetson-wearing, burger-eating lickspittle runningdog lackeys of American Cultural Imperialism. But I’m also sure that isn’t true. If I were of a UKIP style persuasion I might assume that the entire Clarke jury, including Mr. Lewis, was anti-British. But I’m sure that isn’t true either. Instead, based on my own experience of award juries and the like, I will assume that they jury did their best to honestly pick what they thought were the best books, and put aside any personal prejudices they might have. I certainly think they have produced a very fine list, even though it might not be the same as the one I would have picked. I live in hope that Mr. Lewis will extend a similar level of courtesy to other award juries and the like in future.

      • Martin says:

        Mr. Lewis is almost certain that it was omitted due to anti-British prejudice.

        I don’t believe this, I have never said anything that might even suggest this and your constant repeating of it makes you look both dishonest and a fool. Either you are too stupid to understand what I have written or you are deliberately acting in bad faith. If I had to guess, I would say the latter.

        As Adam has just noted, this conversation started with some remarks from Jonathan McCalmont on Twitter. You then wrote a blog post that completely mischaracterised what he said without having the decency to refer to him by name. I wrote several long comments explaining what the actual remarks had suggested and, unsurprisingly, you found yourself unable to engage with them in any substantive fashion.

        Now like a dog returning to its vomit you have now dragged your mischaracterisation of that old argument into an unrelated discussion. The result is a comment that is completely unintelligible. Do you even know what point you were trying to make here?

  6. Adam Roberts says:

    Oops. “… choosing a shortlist that includes four Americans and one South African…” of course.

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  8. Adam Roberts says:

    Hi Cheryl

    Thank you for this long, courteous reply. I don’t think we disagree over very much, actually: of course there are people on both sides of the pond whose allegience is tribal/nationalist; and of course that’s stupid. Absolutely, ‘people already luxuriating in significant levels of privilege [trying] to appropriate the role of oppressed victims’ is annoying; likewise ‘the assumption of cultural superiority by any national or racial group’ ought always to be challenged. But though I am often snarky (as you note), I personally would think long and hard before accusing anybody of racism — or for that matter, of misogyny or LGBT-phobia. I would do so because these strike me as really, really serious accusations to level at anybody.

    You say: “Mr. Lewis is almost certain that [NMA] was omitted due to anti-British prejudice. That’s spectacularly silly.”

    It would indeed be silly; but it’s not what Martin said. To quote his exact words: ‘Did the compilers of the Locus list exclude it because Roberts is British? No.’

    Martin can speak for himself of course (though he may feel his position as Clarke judge precludes him doing so at the moment), but I took him to be saying something along these lines: Locus recommended 70-odd SFF novels, not counting YA titles, as books their readers might be interested in checking out. Roberts’s novel was not one of them. As an explanation for this fact, one of two circumstances obtains: either the compilers of the list really thought Roberts’s novel was so bad that it deserved to be left entirely off; or it was left off by some manner of oversight — individual compilers happened not to have read it, or have heard of it, or it slipped their minds or whatever. He assumed the latter; but of course it could just as well be the former, which is what I assume you’re suggesting. But neither position amounts to cultural imperialism.

    The whole thing began on Twitter, as you note in your previous post: and I believe you were initially reacting to tweets by Jonathan McAlmont, who a while back published a fairly positive review of my novel, and who expressed regret on Twitter that it had been left off the Locus list. I’d suggest that nobody who reads McAlmont’s blog could accuse him of having a Little Englander outlook: by far the bulk of the texts (mostly films) he covers are non-UK. Martin, as we’ve noted, signed off on a list of what — I agree with you — he certainly considered the six best novels published irrespective of the nationality, gender or orientation of the authors. And to speak personally; I can’t pretend that my novel, howsoever rubbish it may be, gets dragged in via a guilt-by-association as in effect a UKIP-y work of science fiction. I say plainly I find this latter thought an objectionable one. Perhaps you saw my Locus Online list of the 10 best SF novels; I don’t believe it to be a Little Englander or UKIP sort of list.

    • Adam Roberts says:

      Rushed typing: line 5 from bottom, “… I can’t pretend that I’m happy that my novel…”

    • Cheryl says:

      Hi Adam,

      Profuse apologies for the slow response. As you may be aware, I have been at P-Con in Dublin over the weekend. This has resulted in my being offline for much of the day, and also in my being treated to the legendary Irish hospitality. While it may have proved amusing to those who like watching online train wrecks, I think it would have been unwise of me to attempt to respond after having imbibed too many pints of Guinness.

      I think you are right in noting that Jonathan McCalmont was the first to tweet about this issue, but as I recall he characterised the Locus List as something like US-centric, which I think is a more defensible position, if only because of the rather large number of Americans compared to most other nationalities. Had he described the List as as Anglo-centric I would have agreed wholeheartedly.

      However, through the system of positive feedback that often pertains to discussion in social networks this pro-Americanness gradually morphed into anti-Britishness, which I though was silly and said so. I avoided singling out any one person as I was almost certainly not privy to the whole discussion and because I thought people were getting a bit carried away and should be given the option to quietly reconsider in the face of the evidence.

      Mr. Lewis, however, saw fit to come here and inform me of the error of my ways. In doing so he cited your book as evidence, which is how it entered the debate. My apologies that this should have happened on my blog.

      The comment to which I referred above ends as follows: “Did the compilers of the Locus list exclude it because Roberts is British? No. Did they exclude it because New Model Army doesn’t deserve a place on the list? Perhaps but I doubt it. Did they exclude it because it doesn’t have a US edition? Almost certainly.”

      So yes, he says that your nationality as an author was not at issue, but he says that book was “almost certainly” excluded because it “doesn’t have a US edition.” I continue to maintain that this is silly. As I explained above, Locus pays a great deal of attention to the UK market. It tries to report on every relevant book published here, it reviews books published only in the UK, and it has several UK residents in the group of people who help compile the List. I am sure that all large UK publishers send review copies to Locus, and even if they don’t it would be very easy for someone working on the list to obtain a copies. It is a small community and we all know each other. Also some of the books on the list did only have UK editions.

      Consequently I can’t see any structural reason why any book should be excluded from the list simply because it doesn’t have a US edition. If it is so excluded, then that must be because of some deliberate decision by people to do so. That in turn suggests that those responsible for compiling the list have at least been dishonest, and perhaps are corrupt. As someone who helped compile the list I find such suggestions unpleasant.

      As you may have noticed, Mr. Lewis thinks that I am a knave and a fool, and quite possibly morally bankrupt to boot. He’s entitled to his opinion, and I have no objection to him saying so. For my part I will continue to treat such pronouncements with amusement rather than taking offence, because life is too short to get angry over such things.

      • Martin says:

        I avoided singling out any one person as I was almost certainly not privy to the whole discussion and because I thought people were getting a bit carried away and should be given the option to quietly reconsider in the face of the evidence.

        Now I understand. When you said –

        “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.”

        – you were just pouring oil on troubled waters. My thanks.

        Mr. Lewis, however, saw fit to come here and inform me of the error of my ways.

        I “came here” to respond directly to a comment from David Williamson about the Vector reviewers’ poll for which I am responsible. In the course of doing so, I raised not only some specific differences between Vector and Locus but also some general issues about the Locus Recommended Reading list. I thought there was an opportunity for a rational conversation about all these issues. I now realise I was mistaken.

        Even though I found your characterisation of unnamed individuals as “the UKIP wing of British fandom” both preposterous and offensive, I did not mention it. In fact, at no point did I “inform you of the error of your ways” in any shape or form.

        It is all there in black and white which does makes your continual mischaracterisation of my words and position either foolishness or knavery. Either way you should at least have the decency to be embarassed.

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  10. Anne K Gray says:

    Adam,

    While I would agree that complaints of awards seeming to overlook one’s country do not necessarily come ” from an innate sense of British cultural superiority on the part of those people,” I want to disagree with your assertion that suggesting someone said something due to racist or misogynist attitudes are “really, really serious accusations to level at anybody.”

    This is something that came up in the RaceFail discussions and I hope you will just sit with it for a minute: for people who are part of an oppressive class of people in society, suggestions of racism (or other isms) can feel really threatening, but for the people who experience it directed at them, those tendencies are commonplace –not a capital crime, but something that all too often gets ignored partly *because* the reaction to bringing it up tends to involve much wailing and gnashing of teeth. To respond to the identification of racist or xenophobic statements with a tone of ‘Omg! You just *accused* that person of a crime! That’s really really serious! Are you sure you want to go there? How could you be so mean?” derails discussion from the topic of the experience of the oppressed, and silences their voices.

    Imagine for a moment if you told someone what they just said was rude (to you or to someone else) and they turned around with an indignant look on their face and said “How dare you accuse me of being a bad person! I didn’t rape anyone! Watch where you point that finger!” It would be really difficult to continue talking about the impact of what they said in the face of their self-righteous attitude about having their character so terribly maligned.

    If you wish to have a society that improves upon itself and is open to hearing the voices of minorities or others people are prejudiced towards, please consider changing your characterization of what it means to raise concern about statements that seem to reflect such prejudices.

    • Adam Roberts says:

      Dear Anne: I do indeed consider the accusation of racism to be a serious one. I do so not because such an accusation might hurt the feelings of a privileged white person, but because racism itself is so serious a business that trivialising the term does actual damage.

      You ask me to ‘just sit with’ what you say for a minute. I did so; I’ve been thinking about them for an hour or so now. In return, I’d ask you to consider the rest of my (I’m afraid) rather lengthy reply.

      You say:

      To respond to the identification of racist or xenophobic statements with a tone of ‘Omg! You just *accused* that person of a crime! That’s really really serious! Are you sure you want to go there? How could you be so mean?” derails discussion from the topic of the experience of the oppressed, and silences their voices

      Whose voices are you saying I’m silencing? I ask the question genuinely, and without snark. You don’t mean Cheryl’s, I think: she’s a white middle class Brit of Welsh ancestry, just as am I myself. She’s also an eloquent (indeed, award-winning) writer with several platforms through which to express herself and a large, appreciative audience. (I also have several platforms through which to express myself, which is as it should be — free speech, and so on — though of course my audience and influence don’t match hers.) Disagreeing with something she has blogged about in the comments to her blogpost is hardly silencing her. So whose voices in this discussion am I silencing?

      You also say:

      I would agree that complaints of awards seeming to overlook one’s country do not necessarily come ” from an innate sense of British cultural superiority on the part of those people”

      But nobody has suggested that any award (actually: the Locus recommended reading list) has overlooked a country. I know Cheryl, in her original post and here again now, says that people (‘the UKIP wing of British fandom’ as she puts it) are complaining that novels are being overlooked simply because they are British. But, really, nobody is saying that. I hate to ask you to take that on trust: it would be a simple matter to Google the names and check for yourself. If you do so, you’ll find it’s true. Jonathan McAlmont, whose tweet regretting the fact that one novel he liked had been omitted from the Locusonline list provoked Cheryl’s response, said nothing about a conspiracy to exclude British novels just because they’re British.

      Martin Lewis, whom Cheryl accuses in this post of ‘spectacularly silly’ jingoism and xenophobia has, as a 2011 judge just signed off, as Cheryl herself admits later in this same post on a Clarke award shortlist chosen wholly on merit that includes hardly any British writers at all. Accusing him of having a UKIP outlook and then celebrating him for being part of the team that’s given us the splendidly diverse shortlist just looks incoherent.

      As I say in an earlier comment on this thread, one of two reasons will explain why my novel wasn’t on the Locusonline recommended reading list: either the compilers overlooked it, or they considered it but decided it just wasn’t good enough to make the cut. Either case is a possibility. Jonathan and Martin have wondered if the former situation obtains, Cheryl, I suppose, believes the latter does. In either case, it’s just one of those things. Certainly neither case involves ‘derailing discussion from the topic of the experience of the oppressed, and silencing their voices’.

      Finally, you say:

      If you wish to have a society that improves upon itself and is open to hearing the voices of minorities or others people are prejudiced towards, please consider changing your characterization of what it means to raise concern about statements that seem to reflect such prejudices.

      No statement made by Martin Lewis ‘reflects such prejudices’. Lewis is not a racist; neither is McAlmont. Neither am I. To repeat myself: calling people racists when they aren’t racist is a bad idea, not because you’ll hurt those people’s feelings (though you may very well do that) but because it trivialises and demeans racism as it actually manifests in the world.

      The alternative is — what? Are you saying that, should somebody unjustly accuse you of being a racist, you shouldn’t deny it? That denying accusations of racism is, somehow just by virtue of the denial, ‘silences the voices’ of victims of racism? But, no; you can’t be saying that. That would be daft.

      • Cheryl says:

        I do so not because such an accusation might hurt the feelings of a privileged white person, but because racism itself is so serious a business that trivialising the term does actual damage.

        Yes, this! (As I understand one should say online these days.) This is why when I see privileged white people apparently claiming that they are being discriminated against because of their race or nationality I get all wound up.

  11. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I’ll just say, Cheryl, that I think the Locus recommended list is an imperfect thing, that the full roster of who is contributing to it ought to be transparent, not just simply “and others”, and that it needs to be more systematic than it is in who it gets to recommend material as the list is clearly becoming more and more important to people, and it clearly has blind spots.

    Right now the process seems stuck *between* and to harken back to the days when Locus was more of a fanzine. It’s not that any more, and it needs to apply professional standards to its recommended list. That means recusing staff members who are part of the recommendation process from directly being on the list with books they edited or wrote, at the very least. It also means ensuring that magazine editors cannot recommend from their own magazines. Does that happen now? We have absolutely no way of knowing one way or the other.

    If Locus, which I read cover to cover every month, I must admit, is going to be the true journal of record, then it needs to be more rigorous and more transparent in its methodology.

    JeffV

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