Filter House, by Nisi Shawl; The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness

It being a new year and time of renewal, I’ve decided that I will (again) change the way I am writing up the previous winners of the Tiptree, Clarke and BSFA Best Novel Awards; if I have already written them up on this blog, I won’t revisit them. I have a couple of other long blog post series of projects that I’d like to think about starting, and a couple that will end naturally this year (Oscars and bookblog nostalgia).

However, I’ll still write up joint winners of the same award together, so for today it’s the winners of the 2009 Tiptree Award (as it was then called). This was the year that Song of Time, by Iain MacLeod, won the Clarke Award and The Night Sessions, by Ken MacLeod, won the BSFA Award for Best Novel. The Tiptree jury made a joint award (which has happened eight times in the last twenty years) to Nisi Shawl’s collection Filter House, and to Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go. The twelve-strong “Honor List” included one novel that I have read and very much enjoyed, Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, and a set of short novels by a different author of which I have tried one and didn’t like it.

The second paragraph of “The Pragmatical Princess”, the third story in Filter House, is:

Ousmani closed her eyes again. She did not believe in dragons, any more than she believed in the affrits and djinns of her father’s homeland, or the water-demonesses of Mali, where her mother had been born. “It is a horse,” she told herself. “A very large and very ugly horse.” Peering out under her long, dark lashes, she considered the dragon’s glittering snout, its gleaming, golden eyes. Its irises were formed like slits, as were the nostrils inches from her own, from which an occasional wisp of steam escaped.

I think this may be the only collection of stories to have won the Tiptree / Otherwise Award. Perhaps I was just in a tired mood, after an exceptionally busy period at work, but none of these especially grabbed me. I guess the two that lingered most are “The Pragmatical Princess”, whose title character cuts a deal with the monster that was supposed to eat her, and “The Water Museum”, about a society where water is scarce and its guardian is an assassination target. I slightly bounced off Shawl’s Everfair as well, and perhaps this is just one of those authors who is not for me. You can get it here.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness, is:

“I was in the swamp getting apples for Ben,” I say.

I enjoyed this more – a big chunky fantasy about a boy growing up in a village where all the women have died, and where dark secrets lurk in the hearts of the surviving men; he runs away and explores his world, discovering the awful truth. There is a cute dog and a smart girl. Slightly surprised by the ending, which is a cliff-hanger for the next volume. I would not have voted for this myself (of the Tiptree works, my choice would have been Lavinia), but I enjoyed it. You can get it here.

For completeness, I’ll note that from that year’s BSFA shortlist, apart from The Night Sessions, which won, I have read Anathem by Neal Stephenson but not Flood by Stephen Baxter or The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. Of the two I have read, I’d have voted for The Night Sessions.

For further completeness, I have previously written up here all three winners of the relevant awards for the following year. The BSFA Best Novel Award went to The City & The City, by China Miéville, though as previously noted I’d have voted for Lavinia; the other two finalists were Ark by Stephen Baxter and Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts.

The City & The City also won the Clarke Award that year, and Yellow Blue Tibia was also on the shortlist, as were Far North by Marcel Theroux, Spirit: The Princess of Bois Dormant by Gwyneth Jones, Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson and Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding. Marcel Theroux was an exact contemporary of mine as an undergraduate at Clare College, Cambridge, though we did not know each other well; China Miéville also went to Clare, but arrived after both Marcel and I had left. I’d have voted for the winner here.

The Tiptree Award was again a tie, between the first two volumes of Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, by Fumi Yoshinaga (volume 1; volume 2) and Cloud and Ashes, by Greer Gilman. I enjoyed the former and bounced off the latter, and haven’t read anything else on the long list.

So next in this sequence of reviews will be the 2011 Tiptoe winner, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, by Dubravka Ugrešić.