The second part of my review of this year's Clarke shortlist is now online at Strange Horizons, covering Arcadia by Iain Pears, Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson, and The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor. You can find it here, and in case you haven't already read part 1, that's here. The actual winner will be announced in London in a few hours, but as I write in the conclusion to the review, I tend to see that announcement as less of a triumph for any particular book, and more a data point that will help to clarify--at least a little--what the judges were aiming for with this year's bland and conventional shortlist. The book that wins will tell us a great deal about how this year's judges saw the Clarke, and their task as its jury. But I'm hopeful that next year the jury will make more interesting, more challenging choices.
Martin Petto has updated his collection of links to discussion of the shortlist, including this essay by Megan of the (new to me) blog From Couch to Moon. It's very much worth reading, including some interesting reflections on both the Clarke and this year's nominated books. To me, it also clarified many of my problems with this shortlist. Megan and I largely agree about the ranking of the six nominated books, and our thoughts about the ones that, I suspect, we'd both happily knock off the shortlist are largely in line. But when it comes to the two books that I think we'd both class as good--Europe at Midnight and The Book of Phoenix--our opinions diverge widely. Megan sees Europe as much more self-contained and self-sustaining than I do (to me it feels like a pendant to the previous volume in this trilogy, Europe in Autumn, whereas Megan calls it superior to that book). And though we both agree that The Book of Phoenix is the most likely winner of this year's Clarke, it's clear that we took very different things away from the book, and read it quite differently.
And that, not to keep repeating myself, is how the Clarke should work. The books it highlights should be the ones that people disagree about, even if they're broadly in agreement about their quality and literary merits. I want the Clarke shortlist to be full of books that I could write 3,000 words about, and then go and read someone else's 3,000 words and discover a whole host of ideas I'd never considered. I hope I won't have to wait too long before getting a shortlist like that again.