Here is a reminder of the five nominees with links to my outrageous, provocative and always controversial reviews:
- Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith (Electric Monkey)
- Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder & Stoughton)
- The Peripheral, by William Gibson (Viking)
- The Way Inn, by Will Wiles (4th Estate)
- The Race, by Nina Allan (NewCon Press)
First off the judges need to be congratulated for nominating an excellent group of finalists. With stories featuring post apocalyptic settings, mutant grasshoppers, alien first contact, creepy motels and time travel, all these novels take their inspiration from the core subgenres of science fiction. And yet the approach is utterly new and fresh. The mutant grasshopper story turns out to be a meditation on history; the alien first contact plot incorporates and blends elements of the superhero origin story and Nigerian mythology; the book dealing with time travel actually involves quantum tunneling between computers split many years apart; the creepy motel is part of a chain that has the power to bend reality and the apocalyptic setting acts as a form of catharsis for a writer dealing with a troubled past.
Reading these novel you realise that at novel length there are still writers willing to be playful and inventive and smart with the SF genre.
My favourite novel, though, was not Grasshopper Jungle. I appreciate the judges sentiment that “in the end, [it was] the novel with the biggest chance to actually blow a young person’s mind.” But when it comes to blowing minds – young adult or just adult – Lagoon tops the list for me. As I said in my review, Okorafor’s approach to the first contact genre was utterly original with its mix of other sub genres and in its refusal to follow a linear narrative or perspective. I like rapacious, 6 foot grasshoppers, but nothing can beat crazy sea monsters and freeways that spring to life and eat traffic.
The Race was also a marvellous novel that would get my vote before Grasshopper Jungle. It’s probably the best written book on the shortlist and, thematically, the one with the most layers to peel away. Allan is an astonishing new writer whose literary sensibilities elevate the genre concepts she’s playing with.
Still, if I had the choose I’d probably sway toward Lagoon. I’ve never read anything like it before, which might be a commentary about my narrow reading habits or might just indicate that there’s something truly special about this book.
So, in this instance, while I applaud their shortlist I don’t agree with the judges final decision.