As reported on SF Awards Watch, the Clarke Award short list has been announced. There’s already been a fair amount of reaction to it, and John Jarrold in particular seems rather upset. On the other hand, the announcement did make The Guardian. I generally used to get emails about the Clarke, but this year I didn’t, and SFAW apparently doesn’t rate a copy of the press release either, but The Guardian does. Maybe this tells us something, especially given the tenor of the Guardian coverage which seems to suggest that the award is moving away from that awful science fiction stuff and is now rewarding proper fiction instead.
But is it? I haven’t read many of the books yet, though I am trying to work by way through them. Ken MacLeod’s Execution Channel is certainly SF, though it is also my least favorite MacLeod book in a long time. I suspect that the book succeeds or fails depending on your reaction to the ending, which didn’t work for me at all. I’ve not read Richard Morgan’s Black Man (Thirteen in the US), but I’ve read enough Morgan novels to know what to expect: girls with big boobs and men with big guns. I’ve seen it turn up on a lot of recommendation lists, so it is probably one of Richard’s best yet. Stephen Baxter’s The H-Bomb Girl also seems to be genuine SF, although it is YA, and I’ve had it very warmly recommended. Sadly I wasn’t able to find a copy before leaving the UK.
So much for the familiar names, what about the others? As I’ve said elsewhere, Sarah Hall’s book is very well written, but not a great piece of SF. If this book wins it will, I think, be a sure sign that the Clarke jury is thinking more about literary merit than about the books as science fiction. The other Hall, however, is fabulous. I’m reading The Raw Shark Texts at the moment, and I’m very impressed. It is probably way too experimental for most genre SF readers, but I’m happy to allow a book about a man having his mind eaten by a “conceptual shark” a place in my definition. If you like Tim Powers and Mark Z. Danielewski then you’ll probably like this too. I know nothing at all about The Red Men save that one of my friends thinks it is awful, but it is apparently about manufacturing androids so it can’t be that sci-fi free.
So actually I think that, with the possible exception of the Sarah Hall, these are actually all SF books. Steven Hall even told The Guardian that he has ambitions to write an episode of Doctor Who. Of course they might be the wrong SF books. Personally I would have had Spook Country, Brasyl and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union on the list, but then I can see some people complaining that two of those are not SFnal enough. Another obvious candidate is Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods (as championed by Jeff VanderMeer) but, as revealed in comments here, the book’s publishers refused to allow it to be considered, presumably because they didn’t want it tarred as “sci-fi.” So much for The Guardian’s slant on things.
So basically I think that all that we have here is yet another Clarke jury that is allowed and perhaps even encouraged to be unorthodox in its selections. That’s what you get with a juried award. Goodness only knows which book will win, but as the award has introduced me to The Raw Shark Texts I’m happy, it has done me a good service.