Yesterday Pat Cadigan posted an open letter to The Guardian in response to their coverage of the Clarke Award controversy. Pat has been a member of the Clarke jury, and as such has valuable insights into the way the process works. It is possible that the rules have been changed since her time in the job, but Tom Hunter hasn’t contradicted her, and did tweet to thank her for the letter, so I’m assuming that what Pat says still applies. This is the bit I want to highlight:
Jury members for the Clarke may serve for two years. During that time, they agree to keep deliberations confidential. That means not revealing who liked–or hated–what book, or which books narrowly missed the shortlist, or which books they favoured. The chairman is likewise expected to keep shut and is enjoined from trying to influence the five jury members in any way.
There are several things that arise from this. The first is that the jury undertook, when they agreed to serve, not to discuss their deliberations in public. Not all juries work this way. In stark contrast the World Fantasy Award jurors are expected to appear on a panel immediately after the award ceremony to defend their decisions. The Clarke jury, however, cannot say anything, no matter how much they might want to right now.
Secondly, while the title of Chair might suggest that Andrew Butler in some way controls the jury, Pat makes clear that this post is purely administrative. Even if Butler totally disagreed with the jury’s choices, he is bound not to interfere. Criticizing him for having failed in his duty by not ensuring a better short list, as Priest does, therefore completely misses the mark. Indeed, Butler may well have been gritting his teeth in anguish at the books chosen, but if he was it would still have been his duty to say nothing.
Finally, the fact that the Chair is prevented from attempting to influence the jury in any way is clear evidence that the Clarke Award does not have much in the way of a political agenda. Beyond picking the jury, there is nothing that the Award management can do to influence the result.
Note also that the jurors have to be able to get to meetings in London, be able to commit to a time-consuming, unpaid task, be knowledgeable about SF, and serve no more than two years each. That means that picking the jury is not necessarily an easy task. After this year, finding people willing to serve on the jury will be much more difficult.
Of course it doesn’t have to be this way. If British fandom would like the Clarke to be run in a different manner they can try to pressure Tom and his colleagues to make changes. But this is how things work now, and anyone criticizing this year’s short list should do so within the context of the current rules, not on the basis of how they imagine or would like the rules to be.