Second paragraph of third chapter:
‘Good morning,’ I said.
This won the BSFA Award for 1993, beating three books that I have read – Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith; Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson; and Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson – and one that I haven’t, Harm’s Way by Colin Greenland. This is stiff competition – Green Mars is probably the best of the Mars trilogy and won the Hugo and Locus awards, Snow Crash made Stephenson’s reputation and was also on the Clarke shortlist, and Ammonite won the Tiptree award and was on the Clarke shortlist as well. Yet Aztec Century won no other award and did not even get shortlisted for anything else. What were the BSFA voters thinking of?
Actually I can see what they were thinking of. This is a really interesting alternate history where the Aztecs benefited from Spanish technology and cultural inputs to become the major superpower on the planet. The narrator is a princess of the British royal household towards the end of the twentieth century, just after the successful Aztec invasion of England, making her own accommodation with the new order, from a starting point of uncompromising intransigent resistance. A novel like this has to achieve the difficult tasks of intriguing the reader about the different historical track without info-dumping, while also having a decent plot that works on a human level. I think Evans succeeds very well at both – hints are dropped but never fully fleshed out about his world’s history, and the protagonist’s journey of betrayal and unreliable information at her own personal level is a nice reflection of the alternate history genre as a whole. There is a bonus insight into how our own world would look from the Aztec Century starting point. I really enjoyed this and am surprised that it is not better known. You can get it here.
Next on my list of award-winners is Vurt, by Jeff Noon.