The shortlist for this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award was as a follows (with handy hyper-links to my not so concise reviews):
- The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey (Orbit)
- The Book Of Strange New Things – Michel Faber (Canongate)
- Europe In Autumn – Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)
- Memory Of Water – Emmi Itäranta (HarperVoyager)
- The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August – Claire North (Orbit)
- Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel (Picador)
The winner, announced in May, was Emily Mandel’s Station Eleven. At the time I applauded the Clarke jury on their choice given (a) I loved the book and (b) I’d read five of the novels on the list and thought that the Mandel was easily the best of the bunch.
And then I read Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson and suddenly I wasn’t so sure anymore. The Mandel is a fantastic novel and a worthy winner. But Europe in Autumn – as I’ve just squeed about in a recent review – is probably the best written genre novel of 2014. As such, I can’t help but feel that maybe, just maybe, I’d have given the award to the Hutchinson. And considering how much I’ve praised and defended and shed blood over the Mandel, it feels almost sacrilegious to choose another novel over it.
But I can’t help the way I feel.
My betrayal of Station Eleven, though, shows how fantastic the above shortlist is. Not only does it feature two stand-out novels – Mandel / Hutchinson – but the North, Itäranta and Faber aren’t too shabby either. The only novel that sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb is The Girl With All The Gifts. The Carey isn’t awful, but it’s dull and predictable and could have been easily replaced by any number of excellent books, such as Nina Allan’s The Race, Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon and even Hermione Eyre’s strangely wonderful Viper Wine.* But apart from the Carey this is the sort of shortlist that sparks positive dialogue and discussion about the state of SF at the moment (or at least SF published in the UK).
And it would seem the apocalypse, or at least the coming of the apocalypse, is at the top of mind. All the novel’s featured (except for the North) touch on the decline of civilisation – whether via a plague, an economic crisis or climate change. Even so, there’s no sense of repetition here as the coming slow apocalypse (or actual apocalypse in the case of the Mandel and to a lesser extent the Itäranta) is employed in entirely different ways. The message, though, is that science fictions authors struggle to see a future for humanity that doesn’t involve the fracturing of the world as we know it. Yes, it’s a little depressing, but as Station Eleven shows this sort of story can be given an optimistic spin and as Hutchinson proves, even if the world is falling apart, there’s plenty of fun to be had (even if it’s a bit grim and dark).**
Anywho, while I might disagree with the judges final decision (and only after much soul searching) they also deserve a pint for putting together a fantastic shortlist.
* To be fair to the judges, the Eyre wasn’t one of the 107 books submitted. But even a novel like Simon Ings’ Wolves (a book I wasn’t that fond of) would have been a better fit for this very good shortlist.
** While I don’t want to invoke the Sad Puppies in every blog post I write, in a sense this shortlist is an example of the sort of literary and depressing genre fiction that they oppose. I have some sympathy for this position – doom and gloom science fiction can be wearying. Except I’ve also read their alternative and frankly I’d rather read an endless stream of apocalypse fiction.