These were the four novels that won the BSFA, Clarke and Tiptree Awards in 2007 for work of 2006. I should say also that the Tiptree jury gave a special citation to James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, by Julie Phillips, which I too found an excellent book. When I read it in 2007, I wrote:
This is surely a model of how to write a biography. Although her subject died in 1987, Julie Phillips has been through all her private papers, done the necessary bureaucratic sleuthing through her career, dug into her parents’ background, interviewed the elderly first husband and many other relatives and friends, reflected on the wider social and literary currents of the time illustrated by the main narrative, and supported it all with extensive notes.
But that’s not enough to make a successful biography. To do that you have to not only know your subject; you have to have chosen someone who is in some way fascinating in their own right, and be able to communicate that fascination to your readers. Phillips has done that admirably. I haven’t read a lot of Tiptree’s work (having said which, there isn’t so very much to read), but I think you could safely give this book to someone who had never heard of her, even someone who never reads science fiction, and sill expect them to enjoy it.
Most readers, however, will have bought this book largely to find out more about Tiptree/Sheldon’s writing; we don’t get anything about that until halfway through, but I don’t think anyone will be bored by the first fifty years of Sheldon’s life – privileged Chicago upbringing, childhood safaris to Africa, a Christmas elopement and disastrous first marriage, World War II and the CIA, psychological research, a better choice of second husband.
And then the decade of fame as SF writer James Tiptree, Jr, producing strange, memorable stories, winning Hugos and Nebulas for them, engaging in intimate correspondence with the luminaries of the genre, but all under a pseudonym which was eventually exposed. I had not realised, however, that the Hugo and nebula for “Houston, Houston, Do You Read” both came after the revelation of her true identity.
The one weak point in Phillips’ analysis has been well illuminated by Farah Mendlesohn: she doesn’t convincingly explain Sheldon’s attitude to sexuality – in fairness, a complex question, and one to which we will probably never know the real answer (although Farah’s answer is more convincing than Phillips’).
I am in a rush this morning in Georgetown, just a few miles from where Alice Sheldon and James Tiptree lived and died, so don’t have time to write more about this brilliant book. But we are promised that the paperback will include more photographs, and more of Sheldon’s own art, so I may find myself buying it all over again. [So far, I haven’t.]
You can get it here. It won the relevant Hugo and Locus Awards as well, and got a citation from the BSFA (who did not make a Non-Fiction award that year).
The four novels were all new to me. I read these in reverse order of popularity on LibraryThing, so the first up is the second of three Tiptree books in this post, Half Life, by Shelley Jackson. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
The fact was conceived on the bus from Hollywood, where Mama’s big break had just fallen through. She had fired her agent in a fit of pique and was going back to New York, where they loved her. They being the regulars at a bohemian nightclub where she did a theatrical number that combined song and dance with dramatic monologue. Men wet their hankies when she did the sad song, and ladies in top hats licked their lips and sent her flowers. Mama peevishly plucked greasy bits out of a bag of doughnuts. Across the aisle sat my father, with sandwiches and soda and a dollhouse on his lap.
I really enjoyed this, and am somewhat stunned to find a host of much more negative online reviews. I’m used to not liking things that everyone else likes (for an example, see below), but it’s unusual for me to like something that a lot of people don’t. It’s a story about a conjoined twin in a world which is like ours except that, due to more nuclear testing, there are a lot more conjoined twins, giving rise to a whole subculture and liberation movement, and it gives Jackson the excuse to explore the politics of selfhood and medical intervention in a firm but ludic way. The sort of book that the Tiptree/Otherwise Award should be honouring. You can get it here.
The BSFA Award for Best Novel went to End of the World Blues, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
Elegant, middle-aged, and happily naked, the Japanese woman lifted herself onto one elbow, revealing a heavy breast. “He’s busy.”
I enjoyed this one too. There are two intertwined plots: an Englishman in Tokyo trying to find out who killed his wife, and a girl from a far future dying earth who has ended up in our time. I got slightly lost in places but I really enjoyed the ride. Jesse Hudson suggests that Grimwood is the 21st century Zelazny; I take the point. You can get it here.
The Clarke Award went to Nova Swing, by M. John Harrison. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
Vic’s home was a coldwater walk-up in South End which he inherited, along with his entree into the business, from a retired entradista and tour guide called Bonaventure. He had two rooms and a shower. He never cooked or ate there, though there was an induction stove and the place always smelled of old food. It smelled of old clothes, too, old tenancies, years of dust; but it was close enough to the event aureole, which was his professional requirement. Vic slept on a bed, he sat in a chair, he shaved in a mirror; like anyone else he bought all those things at a repro franchise at the end of the road, the day he moved in. He kept his zip-up gabardine jackets and Inga Malink artisan shirts in a wardrobe from Earth, rose veneer over boxwood circa 1932AD, that far away, that long ago. Out one window he had a good view of a bridge; out the other it was a segment of the noncorporate spaceport, primarily weeds and chainlink fence.
I disliked Light, the first volume of the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy, and didn’t much enjoy Empty Space, the third volume. True to form, I found Nova Swing unmemorable and uninteresting. A lot of people rave about Harrison’s work, but I find him pretty unreadable. You can get it here.
End of the World Blues and Nova Swing were both on both the BSFA and Clarke ballots, but the other nominees were all different and I have not read any of them. The BSFA for Short Fiction went to “The Djinn’s Wife”, by Ian McDonald.
Finally, as already discussed, the Tiptree Award went jointly to Half Life and to The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, by Catherynne M. Valente. The second paragraph of the third chapter of the latter is:
Instead, he glanced awkwardly at the steaming food. On the little square of silk lay a glistening roasted dove, fat peaches and cold pears, a half loaf of buttery bread covered in jam, broiled turnips and potatoes, a lump of hard cheese, and several sugared violets whisked away from the table garnish. He drew from his pocket a flask of pale watered wine, the great prize of his kitchen adventures.
I enjoyed this a lot. It’s a revision of the Arabian Nights, in a fantasy world of many kingdoms and races, with a much more gender-balanced set of narratives than the original (which was itself not all that bad). Lots of nesting of narrative within narrative; lots of old orders ripe for subversion or overthrow; some witty moments as well. Half Life is still my favourite of these four, but In the Night Garden is close. You can get it here.
Apart from two winners and a Special Mention for the Phillips biography, the Tiptree Award had a relatively restrained honor roll of seven novels, none of which I have read; one, The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow, was also on the BSFA ballot. The Hugo and Nebula that year both went to The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. None of the Hugo or Nebula finalists was on the BSFA, Clarke or Tiptree lists.
Next in this sequence: The Carhullan Army, by Sarah Hall; Brasyl, by Ian McDonald; and Black Man, by Richard Morgan.