It’s that Clarke Award time of year again, and the list of submissions has been published over at Torque Control, in advance of the shortlist being announced this Friday. Fifty-four titles submitted, and it looks a pretty comprehensive list to me – I can’t think of any books I’ve read that have been undeservedly omitted; and the only other title of which I can think that perhaps should be there Walcot by Brian Aldiss. But it’s a very good pool all the same.

In terms of what may appear on the shortlist, it is a very open field this year. There’s only one title I’d consider a certainty to be shortlisted, and that is Ian McDonald’s excellent The Dervish House. The rest is wide open, though I’d imagine that some titles are more likely to reach the shortlist than others.  Before I make my prediction of the shortlist, I’ll go through what strike me as some of the more notable or unusual submissions.

Chris Beckett’s The Holy Machine has had a rather ‘interesting’ publishing history, and only received its debut UK publication last year, despite being originally published in 2004. I haven’t read any of Beckett’s novels, but his short fiction is excellent, and I’d imagine this book is a strong contender.

It’s left to each year’s Clarke jury to decide what constitutes ‘science fiction’ and a ‘novel’; perhaps no title amongst the 2011 submissions would have tested those parameters more than Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty, a semi-fictional history of the Soviet planned economy. It has been highly regarded, but will the judges have considered it valid for the Clarke Award?

Joanna Kavenna’s The Birth of Love, Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, and Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming are all mainstream-published titles which I meant to get around to reading last year but never did. They’ve had mixed reviews, so I’m not sure how the judges will have viewed them; but, if there are going to be any wildcard entries on this year’s shortlist, I suspect these three are the most likely candidates.

Tom McCarthy’s C of course made the Booker shortlist. It’s debatable whether it can be read as sf, but it would certainly be an interesting addition to the shortlist.

Of all the submissions, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl is the one I’ve previously tried to read and given up on doing so; I just couldn’t get into it. I’m sure it is no coincidence that the book is set in the same world as the story in Pump Six with which I struggled the most. I will give it another go at some point, though; and that’ll be sooner rather than later if it makes the Clarke shortlist.

China Miéville, of all authors, can’t be ruled out of Clarke contention; but still I’d be surprised to see Kraken on the shortlist. I think its claim to being science fiction (rather than fantasy) is more tenuous than for any of his other novels, and too tenuous for it to be a contender. Never say never, but I don’t think it’s likely.

What do I think may be on the shortlist, then? A combination of wishful thinking and what I know of the books and their reputations leads me to suggest the following:

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl

Chris Beckett, The Holy Machine

Ian McDonald, The Dervish House

Adam Roberts, New Model Army

Tricia Sullivan, Lightborn

Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

If you’d like to make your own guess, you can do so here, where anyone who guesses correctly by Wednesday night will win a copy of the entire shortlist.