On Wednesday night I was lucky enough to be at the announcement of the shortlist for the 2016 Arthur C Clarke Award. The announcement took place at the launch even for the Sci-Fi London Film Festival, at Stratford Picturehouse. There were canapes and I had a badge that entitled me to free wine. If only it worked for more than just that night.
The Clarke Award is in its 30th year. As a juried award it will always carry a certain cachet The announcement of the shortlist just 24 hours after the Hugo shortlist was inevitably going to show up the differences. The Hugos have always been a bit of a popularity contest, even before their recent Puppy-infested controversy. By contrast, the Clarke Award is a juried award, and it often ends up reflecting a uniquely British take on genre fiction. I frequently disagree with the judges’ choice of winner, but the shortlist is always an interesting snapshot of the state of genre fiction in the UK that year, and every book is an interesting read.
This year’s shortlist is no different. The six books announced on the night were:
- The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton)
- Europe at Midnight – Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)
- The Book of Phoenix – Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder & Stoughton)
- Arcadia – Iain Pears (Faber & Faber)
- Way Down Dark – J.P. Smythe (Hodder & Stoughton)
- Children of Time – Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor)
It’s a really interesting list and I have a huge amount of respect for the team of judges who have managed to whittle a submissions list of 113 books down to a shortlist of just six. As Award Director Tom Hunter said, “This is a quintessentially Clarke Award kind of a shortlist. Look once and I’m sure everyone will see a choice they agree with. Look twice, and you’ll likely see a new book you want to read next. Look a third time though, and I hope you’ll see how well all of these six books sit together, and how they represent a particular special moment in time for UK science fiction. In other words, like all great books, this is a shortlist that rewards the more you read into it.”
I’ve read two of them already. I really enjoyed the Becky Chambers, but it feels a bit lightweight to me for the Clarke. I’d pegged it more as the kind of book that would be a Hugo contender (though it didn’t make the shortlist). And even though I found the Tchaikovsky interesting and engaging, I preferred Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora as a colony ship story. Even if it lacked Tchaikovsky’s super-evolved spiders.
Of the others, I already had Way Down Dark by J P Smythe on the TBR pile. Much as I love Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, I thought his novel The Machine was far the stronger and more interesting book of that shortlist. David Hutchinson made the shortlist last year with Europe in Autumn (to which Europe at Midnight is the sequel). I haven’t yet read it (part of my failed bid to read the Clarke shortlist last year) but I’ll move that one up the list pretty sharpish.
Of the other two, I’m probably most excited by Arcadia. I really loved An Instance of the Fingerpost by the same author, when I read it several years ago, so I’ll be interested to see how he’s evolved as a writer. There’s quite the buzz about Arcadia at the moment. I haven’t yet read any of Nnedi Okorafor’s writing, but I’m looking forward to The Book of Phoenix. She is gathering a real head of critical praise as a writer.
If you’re interested in sampling the shortlist, by the way, all three of Hodder‘s shortlisted books are on offer on Kindle at the moment. I’m intending to read as many of them as I can between now and the announcement of the winner later this year.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with these pictures of some of the awesome cosplay on show on Wednesday night.