Arthur C. Clarke Award 2011: The Shortlist

The speculation was fun (though I was only a third right), but now the real journey begins, as this year’s Clarke Award shortlist has been announced. It’s a fascinating and exciting list:

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City (Angry Robot)

Ian McDonald, The Dervish House (Gollancz)

Patrick Ness, Monsters of Men (Walker)

Richard Powers, Generosity (Atlantic)

Tim Powers, Declare (Corvus)

Tricia Sullivan, Lightborn (Orbit)

(Links above are to reviews of mine.)

Some general thoughts: I’m glad that sf by women has made such a strong showing on the list. It’s good to see such a diversity of publishers, and I like that four of the authors are first-time Clarke nominees. It’s also an interesting combination of nationalities (four American writers, one from the UK, one from South Africa).

I’ve said all along that The Dervish House was a dead cert for the shortlist, and so it has proved, giving McDonald his fourth Clarke nomination (though he has never won). It’s also no surprise (in a good way!) to see Zoo City and Lightborn nominated – both fine sf titles from last year; Lauren Beukes gets her first Clarke nod, and Tricia Sullivan her third (one of which led to a win, for Dreaming in Smoke in 1999).

The other three novels on the list are perhaps more unusual nominees, and therefore deserve a little more introduction here. Monsters of Men is the third volume in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, which – rarely for the Clarke Award – is YA fiction. Regardless of this, the Chaos Walking books are well worth the time of adult readers; it’s a pleasure to see this excellent series gaining such recognition.

Richard Powers is an author who has been on the barest fringes of my consciousness; I’m not even sure whether or not he is routinely identified as a writer of science fiction (not that it matters, of course). Generosity, in which the genetic basis for happiness is discovered, sounds interesting; and Paul Kincaid’s glowing review at Strange Horizons makes me even keener to read the novel.

Declare is probably the most surprising novel on the shortlist, because it dates from as far back as 2000. Tim Powers has been out of print in this country for many years, but his alternate-world Cold War spy novel finally received its first British publication last year, which made it eligible for the Clarke. It comes with a strong reputation (it won the World Fantasy Award, for one thing), and I very much look forward to reading it.


On a personal note, the shortlist presents me with ‘interesting’ questions over how to blog it, because I’ve read four of the books but only actually reviewed two of them. Zoo City and The Dervish House are already written up, and linked to above. Generosity and Declare are new to me, so those books will be my priority. And the other two…

I took part in the Torque Control discussion on Lightborn last December, and it was clear to me at the time that I lacked the frame of reference to do the novel justice. I probably still don’t have the frame of reference, but I would be interested to return to Lightborn in light of the discussion, and see what more I can find.

I’ve read all three of the Chaos Walking books, but only reviewed The Knife of Never Letting Go because, though I liked the later volumes, I didn’t feel I had enough to say about them. At this stage, I honestly don’t know whether I will revisit Monsters of Men, as these are all pretty hefty tomes, and I don’t know whether I’ll have time for all of them. We shall see.


Finally, some thoughts on the shortlist as a whole. The overall quality of the list strikes me as very high indeed. If I wanted to demonstrate to someone the vibrancy, vitality and quality of sf as a literary form, I could hand them the books on this shortlist. I also think that – perhaps more so than is usual for a Clarke shortlist – these books go well together as a set; I think we’ll find some interesting commonalities and contrasts to discuss amongst them. I look forward to seeing how those discussions unfold as we count down to the announcement of the winner on 27th April.

UPDATE, 28th April: Read my thoughts on the winner here.


  1. Hi David. Here’s a link to my review of Generosity to provide you with some more to think on. Powers is an interesting writer. Richard

  2. David Hebblethwaite

    6th March 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Thanks, William. Looks like it’s going to be an interesting read.

  3. I also think that – perhaps more so than is usual for a Clarke shortlist – these books go well together as a set

    That’s interesting – I’d like to hear your thoughts on that at greater length.

    I’ve reviewed two of the books so far, and will blog the other four as I read them. At least this year the ceremony will be before term starts, so I’ll won’t be trying to sneakily write up my reviews in between teaching classes…!

  4. David Hebblethwaite

    7th March 2011 at 10:58 am

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on that at greater length.

    I have a busy couple of months ahead, so I know that I won’t have time to explore these ideas in any depth; but, thinking out loud…

    Based on the books I’ve already read, I think there will be some themes running through the shortlist that would be interesting to explore. For example, there’s probably something about youth and adulthood; perhaps themes of place or “difference”; there might be something to say about the worlds of Zoo City and Lightborn are knowingly artificial, while that of The Dervish House isn’t.

    I don’t know how far any of this will carry over to the other books on the shortlist (my instinct is that Declare in particular could be an odd one out), but I’ll be interested to see.

  5. I don’t know many of these at all, but it does look like an interesting list.

    To be honest, this is the only SF award I pay much attention to. It seems to have a high quality threshold. Is that your impression or have there just been a couple of good showings recently?

  6. David Hebblethwaite

    9th March 2011 at 10:53 am

    Good question. I’ve only been reading along with the Clarke shortlist for the last couple of years, but have been reading commentary on it ever since Adam Roberts started his round-ups on Infinity Plus. My impression in that time has been that the Clarke tends to be a reliable indicator of good sf; but there’s often at least one title which ends up making people wonder what the judges were thinking.

    The shortlists from this year and last have been particularly strong; and I don’t think this year’s will prove to have an equivalent of Retribution Falls (i.e. a novel that’s obviously and substantially weaker than the rest). So, my answer is probably: yes to a combination of both.

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