Deep Wheel Orcadia, by Harry Josephine Giles

First two stanzas of third section:

The visietor, Darling, luks fer a piece tae bide

“J-Just to look,” sheu says, catchan the poynt
o the yolewife’s quaistion. Sheu’s been raedan aboot
the Wrack-Hofn’s mystery, aboot the yoles
landan thair haal o Lights, aboot the stoor
i the gowden tide, aboot the paece o distance,

aboot a uncan wey o spaekan, o wirkan,
o pittan up wirds, o bidan, belongan, an waantid
tae luk. But nou sheu’s askan the first body
sheu saa i the dock fer the first directions, an habbers,
fer the first time no kennan hoo tae explaen hersel.

The visitor, Darling, looks for a place to stay

“Just to look,” she says, catching the point of the boat worker’s question. She has been reading about the Wreck-Havenharbour’s mystery, about the boats landing their haulcatch of Lights, about the stormstrifestrainspeeddust in the golden seatimetide, about the peace of distance,
about an unknownweird way of speaking, of working, of praying, of waitstayliving, belonging, and wanted to look. But now she’s asking the first bodyperson she saw in the dock for the first directions, and stammers, for the first time not knowing how to explain herself.

This won last year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award, for the best sf novel published in the UK in 2021. Rather unusually, it has the form of an epic poem in Orcadian, the language of the Orkney Islands, with English translation running along the lower half of each page. (Also unusually, it is the first part of the author’s PhD thesis.) It’s a love story between a local and a visitor in a spaceport where there are humans and aliens and general things of wonder. It’s actually quite short, and the plot as such is not original, but the characters and setting are very well drawn, in two languages.

And anyway the point is to shake us out of Anglophone complacency and to consider the value of less-spoken languages, and their potential for added nuance and expression, and giving us readers a broader experience of what the world can contain. It very much ticks the Philip K. Dick box, that good sf shouldn’t just be “What if…?” but “My God! What if…?” – in a very different way. I thought ti was fantastic from that point of view. You can get it here.

The other Clarke finalists that year were Hugo-winning A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine, which I read and hugely enjoyed; BSFA finalist Skyward Inn, by Aliya Whiteley, which I did not enjoy as much; and Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro, A River Called Time, by Courttia Newland and Wergen: The Alien Love War, by Mercurio D. Rivera, none of which I have read.

Arthur C. Clarke Award winners: The Handmaid’s Tale | Drowning Towers / The Sea and Summer | Unquenchable Fire | The Child Garden | Take Back Plenty | Synners | Body of Glass / He, She and It | Vurt | Fools | Fairyland | The Calcutta Chromosome | The Sparrow | Dreaming in Smoke | Distraction | Perdido Street Station | Bold As Love | The Separation | Quicksilver | Iron Council | Air | Nova Swing | Black Man | Song of Time | The City & The City | Zoo City | The Testament of Jessie Lamb | Dark Eden | Ancillary Justice | Station Eleven | Children of Time | The Underground Railroad | Dreams Before the Start of Time | Rosewater | The Old Drift | The Animals in That Country | Deep Wheel Orcadia