Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Clarke Season

Another cool thing that happens in the spring is the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the most consistently entertaining, interesting, and, judging more by its winners than its nominees, rightheaded major genre award. Torque Control posted the list of novels submitted for the judges' consideration last month, and today has the shortlist (with many links to reviews of the nominated novels):
  • Song of Time by Ian R. MacLeod
  • The Quiet War by Paul McAuley
  • House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson
  • The Margarets by Sherri S. Tepper
  • Martin Martin's on the Other Side by Mark Wernham
I had already decided to take a pass on writing a Clarke shortlist review this year before the nominees were announced (mainly because I suspected that Anathem and The Quiet War would be on it, and felt that I'd already said all I had to say about both novels), and the actual shortlist isn't making me regret that decision. Of the two novels I've read, The Quiet War is well-done but underwhelming (an opinion in which I am joined by practically no one, as it's been lauded by most of its reviewers and has appeared on several best of the year lists). I enjoyed Anathem very much, though its spell has faded rather quickly. Only a few months after finishing it, I can more easily recall Anathem's flaws--its flat characters, its by-the-numbers plot, its frequent infodumps--than I can the qualities that made me enjoy it despite them. Also, as Jonathan McCalmont points out in the comments to the Torque Control post, giving the Clarke to Stephenson would be a safe and predictable choice, especially given that he's already won it for the vastly inferior Quicksilver.

I haven't heard much about the other nominees, but I'm not particularly inclined to read either Song of Time or The Margarets, having had previous bad experiences with both their authors. I found MacLeod's The Light Ages stiff and overwritten, with barely an appealing character or an interesting plotline in sight, and none of the short stories by him that I've read since have shown an improvement on any of these counts. Tepper's Beauty was preachy and hectoring, and Strange Horizons's review of The Margarets suggests that she hasn't backed away from that dogmatic tone. I'm also not terrifically interested in Alastair Reynolds, and I'll hold off on reading the Wernham, this year's off the wall literary selection, until I can get a better idea of whether it's the 2009 equivalent of The Carhullan Army or The Red Men.

What this means is that I'm probably not going to be as involved in the Clarke award this year as I've been in the past. I do, however, look forward to the traditional Clarke brouhaha--as Graham Sleight puts it "The Clarke has a reputation for a) crossing over into "the literary" for its own sake more than other sf awards, and b) annoying the sf community because of a)" and this is always fun to watch. Plus, the publication of the shortlist is the starting pistol for back-seat judges to start forming the consensus on which novels were criminally left off it--this year the front-runners are Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go and Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World--which similarly makes for good entertainment, though it is probably too much to hope that the award will be boycotted by Ain't It Cool News for the second year in a row. All told, then, this is the beginning of a fun time for me, even if this year I'll mostly be watching from the sidelines.

2 comments:

Martin said...

I enjoyed Anathem very much, though its spell has faded rather quickly.

Indeed. I suspect some sort of literary Stockholm Syndrome may have been involved.

Liz said...

Plus, the publication of the shortlist is the starting pistol for back-seat judges to start forming the consensus on which novels were criminally left off it

It's my only source of fun!

I never managed to finish The Light Ages, and I liked Song of Time. Admittedly I get on better with his short fiction than you do, but I still think it's worth a try.

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