Arthur C. Clarke Award 2013: The Shortlist

You can’t predict the Clarke Award, though you can try. Whatever anyone may have predicted, it almost certainly won’t have been the actual shortlist, which was announced this morning:

  • Nod by Adrian Barnes (Bluemoose)
  • Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus)
  • Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann)
  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Headline)
  • Intrusion by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)

(Links above go to my reviews.)

In the end, I guessed four correctly – though, as Nina Allan points out, the two books I missed have given the actual shortlist a rather different shape. I have also read four of these novels already; so I can say with some certainty that, on its own terms, this is a good shortlist featuring some strong works.

Still, there is no getting away from the fact that this an all-male shortlist, the Clarke’s first since 1988. As Niall Harrison says, this is something that was probably bound to happen sooner or later. There’s been a chronic lack of science fiction by women published by UK genre imprints these last few years; if you look at this year’s Clarke submissions, the titles by women tend to be borderline fantasy (such as G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen), YA (such as Juliana Baggott’s Pure) or mainstream-published (such as Juli Zeh’s The Method) – all categories which are far more hit-and-miss in terms of their shortlisting chances than (say) a Tricia Sullivan or a Gwyneth Jones (neither of whom, I believe, has a UK publishing contract at the moment). When we look for genre sf among this year’s submissions, we’re looking at something like Madeline Ashby’s vN, which is simply not a good book – and, if you don’t have strong core-genre candidate titles, there’s more likelihood that the fringe titles with more hit-and-miss chances will – well, miss.

This situation should change next year, as there’s a substantially larger amount of genre sf by women being published in the UK in 2013 (Niall has a good list in his post). So, what of the books actually shortlisted this year?

For me, the shortlist falls interestingly into two halves. First, there are three genre titles – the Beckett, MacLeod and Robinson. It is notable that these books also featured on the shortlist for the (popular-vote) BSFA Award; and notable in turn that the Clarke omits the other two BSFA nominees – no M. John Harrison, no Adam Roberts. So there is a sense in which this side of the shortlist is playing it safe to an extent; Robinson, Beckett and MacLeod are all good writers who are serious about their work and the possibilities of science fiction (and I think two nominees of theirs that I’ve read deserve their places on the shortlist) – but all write firmly within the core of genre.

This is so striking to me because the other three shortlisted novels are all non-genre – an unusually high proportion for the Clarke, especially in recent years. There’s also an interesting range of flavours amongst them. It’s nice to see Harkaway getting some Clarke recognition after he missed out with The Gone-Away World; he’s a distinctive and significant new voice in contemporary fiction, I think. I’m pleased that Nod is on the list, because it hasn’t had much attention from the sf community as yet, and I think it’s an intriguing book that could have good cross-over appeal. I don’t know much about the Heller, but it looks like the most traditionally “mainstream” Clarke nominee, and I didn’t have it down as a contender.

Finally, my plans for blogging the shortlist: though I’ve read four of the titles, I have reviewed only three – I never got around to writing up Dark Eden. I’ll be concentrating on reading and reviewing the two unfamiliar titles,which are 2312 and The Dog Stars; if time allows, I will go back to Dark Eden. But I’m fully intending to have at least read all six titles by the announcement of the winner on 1 May.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting to see this, David. I don’t read a lot of science fiction so these are all new names to me. I enjoyed your reviews of the three so far, and especially like the sound of Intrusion. I’ve been planning to branch out and read more different genres this year, so perhaps this is a good place to start. Thanks!

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