Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Frank lived in a glass tower on the south edge of the city, overlooking the lake. Jeevan left the park and waited awhile on the sidewalk, jumping up and down for warmth, boarded a streetcar that floated like a ship out of the night and leaned his forehead on the window as it inched along Carlton Street, back the way he had come. The storm was almost a whiteout now, the streetcar moving at a walking pace. His hands ached from compressing Arthur’s unwilling heart. The sadness of it, memories of photographing Arthur in Hollywood all those years ago. He was thinking of the little girl, Kirsten Raymonde, bright in her stage makeup; the cardiologist kneeling in his gray suit; the lines of Arthur’s face, his last words—“The wren …”—and this made him think of birds, Frank with his binoculars the few times they’d been bird-watching together, Laura’s favorite summer dress which was blue with a storm of yellow parrots, Laura, what would become of them? It was still possible that he might go home later, or that at any moment she might call and apologize. He was almost back where he’d started now, the theater closed up and darkened a few blocks to the south. The streetcar stopped just short of Yonge Street, and he saw that a car had spun out in the middle of the tracks, three people pushing while its tires spun in the snow. His phone vibrated again in his pocket, but this time it wasn’t Laura.

This was the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015, my first year as a judge (my second year was this year). We had considered, but not shortlisted, the winners of the Tiptree Award (The Girl in the Road and My Real Children), the BSFA Award (Ancillary Sword) and the Nebula Award (Annihilation) but not the Hugo (The Three-Body Problem). The other shortlisted books were The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North; Memory of Water, by Emmi Itälanta; The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey; The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber; and Europe in Autumn, by Dave Hutchinson. I liked them all, but I liked Station Eleven best.

The Clarke vow of secrecy means that I can’t say anything about the judging process, but I can, I think, share what I wrote to the other judges after first reading it. I said:

I thought this was very good – loyal to numerous post-disaster predecessors (definite Earth Abides, possibly After London, nods also to Heinlein I think) but cooking something new and very effective from the old ingredients.

I stand by that. I found it a very fresh read now, with a couple of interesting plot lines played out against a generally horrible and fascinating background, and a close examination of how the end of the world might affect you. It’s a grim story, of course, with lots of death, but it really keeps you reading, and I feel that we got it right. I still like it more than any of the other award winners of that year.

Of course the Station Eleven I read in 2015 is not the Station Eleven you will read in 2023 or 2024. It has been turned into a pretty successful TV series (which I haven’t seen), which means that the popular culture perception of the story is now on the screen rather than on the page. But rather more importantly, we have all now lived through a global pandemic, which was not quite as devastating as the one portrayed in Station Eleven, though this was not immediately apparent in March and April 2020.

I think that Station Eleven survived the pandemic better than Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book. Sometimes sf tells us about the future; more often about the present; and sometimes about the past, Station Eleven now does all three, in a way that it didn’t on first publication. You can get it here.

Venomous Lumpsucker, by Ned Beauman

Second paragraph of third chapter:

A boyfriend of Resaint’s had once joked, not entirely fondly, that she would be happiest in some kind of high-security lock-up, one hour of human contact a day and otherwise left to her own devices. And OK, fine, maybe she would have been better equipped for it than the average person, but that didn’t mean she enjoyed her time under house arrest on the Varuna.

A vicious yet funny satire on global politics and the environmental crisis, sort of Kim Stanley Robinson but with sæva indignatio added. It’s mostly set in a near-future Europe from which Britain is (mostly) absent; the role played by the Brits become slowly apparent along with much else that is hinted at in early chapters. Written with passion and confidence, and you’ll be thinking of it for ages.

The shortest of the six finalists for this year’s Clarke Award, and in fact the very last of the 96 submitted books to reach my shelves, and the one that we agreed on as the winner. Strongly recommended, of course. You can get it here.

Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist: Goodreads / LibraryThing stats

The Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist is out! These are all fantastic books. Top in each column is in bold.

 ratersav ratingownersav rating
The Anomaly by Hervé le Tellier414153.839003.73
The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard11923.261584
Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman12363.83673.83
Metronome by Tom Watson17213.77353.79
Plutoshine by Lucy Kissick1454.06183.38
The Coral Bones by E.J. Swift194.538

Again, I crunched the numbers a couple of weeks ago, but they won’t have changed much.

The shortlist, alphabetically by author:

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

The Animals in that Country, by Laura Jean McKay

Second paragraph of third chapter (a long one):

When I can stand without wobbling, I walk. The row behind me a dusty dream. I started out in one of the bigger houses hidden in the dense jungles of the Park, where Angela and Kimberly live now. Sometimes on a really hot or busy day, or if I’ve had one too many, I forget I don’t live there anymore. My feet walk me right up into the Park grounds where I lived with Graham, and Lee when he came home, in a house that looked over the bushy rear of the dingo enclosure. Back then, Graham did the Park’s maintenance and I had a cleaning job doing the toilets, the café, the gift shop, and all the offices. Used to read the manager’s emails for a laugh. I know exactly how much shit the Park was in before our Ange took over. It was a good life after being on the road so long. Me and Graham grew a bit of sneaky marijuana in the roof of the house. He could fix anything that didn’t have a heart, and our Lee dropped out of high school and went up to the city to play bongo drums and pick up backpackers. He’d come down to the Park on the weekends and test his charms out on the rangers — until he got Angela in trouble and it all went balls up. We battled it out until Kimberly was born, then Graham fucked off back down south and Lee followed him. Me back in the workforce as a guide and moved out to the row. Ange, a single parent with a good head on her shoulders. We do alright.

Again, an Arthur C. Clarke Award winner, this time from two years ago. I thought this was very enjoyable indeed, though also rather grim with its theme of eco-catastrophe in Australia. The central character is a middle-aged woman sharing the care of her granddaughter with her estranged son’s ex, who is also her boss. Plague hits the population, thematic for a 2020 novel, though not as inconvenient as COVID with the side benefit of enabling communication with animals. And the animals are not anthropomorphised; they are just about comprehensible in their own way. The human and natural landscapes of Australia are evocatively portrayed, and I can see why it appealed to that year’s judges. Recommended. You can get it here.

The other finalists were Chilling Effect, by Valerie Valdes; Edge of Heaven, by R. B. Kelly;
The Infinite, by Patience Agbabi; Vagabonds, by Hao Jingfang and The Vanished Birds, by Simon Jimenez. I have only read the last of these, as the author was up for the Astounding Award that year, but lost to Emily Tesh. (I really liked it.) Apart from that, none of the six was on the final ballot for the Hugo, Nebula, Otherwise or BSFA Awards. The Animals in that Country did win the Aurealis Award, but lost the Ditmar to The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix.

The Old Drift, by Namwali Serpell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

And so she spent her days in her castle, dressed in wool trousers and jerseys, eating half a cold dinner in the dining room, walking the corridors, the echoes alone persuading her that the walls still existed, stalking the parapets and slumping up and down stairs, she repeated words from the shiny reviews of old tennis matches, singing a sad song to herself, until finally spring came – the heat in the air, the heady smell of blossoms, birdsong loud enough to wake you.

For fairly obvious reasons, I’m thinking a lot about the Arthur C. Clarke Award at the moment, and realised that I have not read the most recent three winners; time to put that right.

I thought The Old Drift was tremendous. It’s mostly about the interlinking lives of three families in Zambia, mostly in Lusaka but starting at the Victoria Falls, over the decades from the early twentieth century to the very near future, in a timeline that diverges slight from ours in terms of technology. I don’t think I’d ever read anything much about Zambia before, and this really conveyed the spirit of a young and also old country, with European and Asian inputs to an African culture. It’s quite a tech-oriented story as well, but the core is the vividly imagined relationships and environment of the characters, with different points of view sympathetically given. It stretched my mind in an unexpected way. Recommended. You can get it here.

Edited to add: I should have mentioned the other Clarke finalists. There was an unusual degree of overlap with the Hugos, with A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine, The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders and The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley on both lists; I read all three but did not blog them, as I was Deputy Hugo Administrator that year. A Memory Called Empire won the Hugo and was also on the Nebula final ballot. The other two shortlisted novels were Cage of Souls, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and The Last Astronaut, by David Wellington. None of the six was on the BSFA or Tiptree lists.

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

Song of Time, by Iain R. MacLeod

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Does it represent a failure of will that I’ve brought him here? Certainly, it would be nice, to leave a little mystery, and possibly even a small scandal, behind me. Famous violinist found dead with anonymous male—as if people still cared about such things. I should report him now—alert the waymarks. Perhaps he’s dangerous. He could be a compendium of every worst fear, the bearer of some deadly new virus far worse than the antique plagues which afflicted my childhood, or the human bomb, the patient torturer, the rapist, the robber, the hostage-taker, the madman. But he looks so vulnerable—so deliciously helpless…

This is the next book in my sequence of winners of the Tiptree/Otherwise, BSFA and Clarke Awards; I’m going back to blogging the award winners individually for two reasons – I think the all-in-one posts were too long, and my memory of the books was fading after reading them.

The only other book I’ve read by this author is his best known work, The Light Ages, which I felt ambivalent about. But I really enjoyed this, and it has incentivised me to look out for his other books. It’s a story in two timelines: the very near future collapse of western civilisation due to plague and unrest, and the slightly further future timeline putting it all back together again. The narrator is a world-famous violinist from Birmingham with Irish and Indian heritage; her marriage to a world-famous conductor reflects the integration and disintegration of their world, as she retells the story years later to a mysterious visitor to her Cornwall cottage. Really good, and you can get it here.

Song of Time won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2009, beating Anathem by Neal Stephenson, House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds, The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper, Martin Martin’s on the Other Side by Mark Wernham and The Quiet War by Paul McAuley. I’ve only read one of those, and I prefer Song of Time. It also won the “other” Campbell Award, jointly with Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, again beating Anathem.

The Hugo that year went to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, the Nebula to Powers by Ursula Le Guin, the BSFA Award to The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod, and the Tiptree Award went jointly to Filter House by Nisi Shawl and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Filter House is up next.

The Carhullan Army, by Sarah Hall; Brasyl, by Ian McDonald; Black Man aka Thirteen, by Richard Morgan

Next in my sequence of books that have won the Clarke, Tiptree/Otherwise and BSFA Best Novel Awards. I had read two out of these three before.

The second paragraph of the third chapter (“File Three”) of The Carhullan Army is:

I did not know how I had kicked away the iron walls and freed up enough space to straighten my legs and uncurl my back. My thoughts were slow to arrive and difficult to arrange. If the door of the dog box was open I could escape. If the pen was like a puzzle, somehow I had decoded it, made one sprung move, one solving turn, and the sides of the cage had released. I could sleep. The stool was gone and I was lying in the dirt. And yet it was smooth and there was the fragrance of soap.

When I first read The Carhullan Army in 2008, I wrote:

I thought it was a very good book. The setting is a near-future Britain, underpopulated and oppressed due to climate change and war; the narrator, a woman known only as “Sister”, flees her native town to join a community of women in the Lake District, and they spend the rest of the book preparing for their struggle with Authority (ie the government). This is the kind of story that is often done embarrassingly badly (see, for instance, Sherri S Tepper on occasion, or The Rising of the Moon) but Hall does it well; Carhullan is emphatically not a utopia, nor is it destined to be a permanent answer to an unjust society, and the leader Jackie and her colleagues are memorable figures. Some readers will be reminded of The Dispossessed, or The Handmaid’s Tale, and I guess it’s fair to say that if you didn’t like either of those books The Carhullan Army will leave you cold. But actually I felt it was also perhaps a response to John Christopher’s The Death of Grass, where the protagonists are engaged in essentially a selfish struggle to get through their post-apocalyptic landscape to (if I remember rightly) the Lake District; the Carhullan Army have a more altruistic and redeeming purpose.

Rereading, I still enjoyed it. The feminist community is not a utopia; it’s a very flawed society, which is still better than the alternative. The theme of eco-catastrophe is all the more relevant in 2022. The characterisation is desperate and convincing. Well worth returning to. You can get it here.

The Carhullan Army won the James Tiptree Jr Memorial Award for 2008. The shortlist included six novels, of which I have read two (Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce and Glasshouse by Charles Stross), a short story, an anthology, and a comic series of which I have read the last volume. It was also on the shortlist for the Clarke Award. From what I’ve read, the jurors made the best choice.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Brasyl (“Our Lady of Trash”) is:

“I know a hundred World Cup Stories.” Raimundo Soares watched his weight drop into the glowing water. He claimed to be the last professional carioca; sometime journalist, sometime writer with a good book about the new bossa nova, a better book about Ronaldo Fenômeno, and a so-so guide to how to be a professional carioca on his backlist. A little fishing early with the brothers, a little cafezinho when the heat got up, a few hundred words on the laptop, the rest of the afternoon he’d spend in a cafe, watching ass on its way to the beach, or strolling around his city, remembering it, memorizing it. In the evening, receptions, parties, openings, his many lovers: a late sleep and up again at fish-jump. He claimed to have worn nothing but surf-Ts and Bermuda shorts for twenty years, even to his own mother’s funeral. He was the loafer, the malandro who doesn’t have to try too hard, carioca of cariocas: they should make him a Living Treasure. “This is true. David Beckham comes to Rio; he’s going to play at the Maracanã for a benefit for Pelé. He’s the guest of the CBF, so he’s got the wife, the kids; everything. They put him up at the Copa Palace, nothing’s too much trouble for Senhor Becks; presidential suite, private limo, the lot. Anyway, one evening he goes out for a little kick-about on the beach and these hoods jump him. Guns and everything, one two three, into the car and he’s gone. Lifted. Right under his guards’ noses. So there’s Beckham in the back with these malandros with the gold-plated guns thinking, Oh sweet Jesus, I am dead. Posh is a widow and Brooklyn and Romeo will grow up never knowing their father. Anyway, they take him up into Rocinha, up the Estrada da Gávea, and then from that on to a smaller road, and from that onto an even smaller road until it’s so steep and narrow the car can’t go any farther. So they bundle him out and take him up the ladeira at gunpoint and anytime anyone sticks so much as a nostril out of their house, the hoods pull an Uzi on them; up and up and up, right up to the top of the favela, and they take him into this tiny little concrete room right under the tree line and there’s Bem- Te-Vi, the big drug lord. This was back before they shot him. And he stands there, and he looks at Beckham this way, and he looks at Beckham that way; he looks at Beckham every way, like he’s looking at a car, and then he makes a sign and in comes this guy with a big sack. Beckham thinks, Jesus and Mary, what’s going on here? Then Bem-Te-Vi stands beside him and they pull out the World Cup, the original Jules Rimet, solid gold and everything, right Out of the sack. Bem-Te-Vi takes one side, Beckham takes the other, and this guy gets out a digital camera, says, ‘Smile, Mr. Beckham.’ Click! Flash! And then Bem-Te-Vi tutns to Becks and shakes his hand and says, ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Beckham, it’s been a real honor… Oh, by the way… if anyone ever finds out about this…’’’

When I first read it in 2008, I wrote:

Ian McDonald’s latest. The setting of Brazil fits his lush, dense writing style so well that it is remarkable that he’s never set a novel in real South America before (his two books set on Mars portray a rather Patagonian version of the planet, but it’s not quite the same). We have three interleaving narratives, from the mid-18th century, the present day, and the near future (2030); we have peculiar variations of reality; and we have the jungle, both urban and literal, with its various hostile inhabitants. In some ways it’s deliberately less ambitious than River of Gods, which juggled ten different viewpoint characters against the background of India forty years hence, but the intermeshing of the different characters from their different time periods in the end comes across rather pleasingly.

I wasn’t quite as blown away on re-reading. The three different timeline settings are superbly realised, but I was not as convinced about the link between them. Still very enjoyable. You can get it here.

Brasyl won the BSFA Award for Best Novel. I’ve read all but one of the other finalists: Alice in Sunderland, Black Man aka Thirteen (see below), The Execution Channel, and Hugo and Nebula winner The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, the other being The Prefect, by Alastair Reynolds. I didn’t vote that year, but I’d probably have gone along with the majority. Alice in Sunderland is a great book, but it’s only tenuously sf. Brasyl was also on the final ballot for both Hugo and Nebula, unlike The Carhullan Army or Black Man / Thirteen.

I had not previously read Black Man, published as Thirteen in the USA. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

The siren hit, upward-winding like the threat of a gigantic dentist’s drill.

I’ve read a couple of other books by Richard Morgan, and this seemed to me in character with them and perhaps a little more under control. The viewpoint character is a genetically engineered “Thirteen” in a near-future (early 22nd century) world where people like him are regarded with suspicion by society and mostly exiled to Mars. There is a murder mystery with explosive political ramifications, some nasty violence (this is the bit of Morgan’s expertise that I don’t especially appreciate), some desperate sex and a very well-written death scene. Like all murder mysteries, the point is to get the reader from A to B while admiring the scenery and wondering how the route will twist next, and it certainly succeeds very well in that. You can get it here.

Black Man won the Arthur C. Clarke Award under that title. The other finalists included two books that I have read and already referred to above, The Carhullan Army and The Execution Channel, and three that I haven’t: The H-Bomb Girl, by Stephen Baxter; The Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall; and The Red Men, by Matthew de Abaitua. I think if I had been a Clarke judge that year, I’d probably have argued strongly for The Carhullan Army.

Next up are the 2010 winners for books published in 2009: Song of Time by Ian R. MacLeod (Clarke winner), Filter House by Nisi Shawl (joint Tiptree winner), The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod (BSFA winner) and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (joint Tiptree winner).

Half Life, Shelley Jackson; End of the World Blues, Jon Courtenay Grimwood; Nova Swing, M. John Harrison; The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, Catherynne M. Valente

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.

Air, by Geoff Ryman

First book review I have posted here for ages – usually I write them for the week ahead at the weekend, and at Eastercon there was no chance of that happening. Also because it’s Hugo season and I’m involved this year, I can’t do reviews for the finalists. Anyway, here we go with Air by Geoff Ryman, who I bumped into several times last weekend.

Second paragraph of third chapter:

She lay in bed, pushing herself into the corner of the alcove, her face stretched into a grin she could not explain. Her family and friends were crowded around. They knew Mae had been inside Mrs Tung when she died.

When I first read it in 2006, I wrote:

I mostly agree with Gene Melzack and Iain Emsley, and where I differ from them I agree with Claude Lalumière [link dead]. This is a great novel about the changes wrought in our world by the new communications technology. Unlike most such novels, rather than fixating on the technology itself, Ryman looks at what the coming information revolution will mean to ordinary people living ordinary lives. Unlike any other such story I have read, his characters are not teenagers living in Western affluence, but villagers in a fictional Central Asian country, at the intersection of the Turkic and Chinese cultural spheres, in other words about as far from the West as you can culturally get in today’s world. I thought it was fascinating and compassionate.

However. Ryman is a proponent of the “mundane science fiction” school and oddly enough the two most problematic elements for me in the book for me were the two most fantastic ones. The physical flood threatening to overwhelm the village threatened to be a rather overstated echo of the metaphorical deluge of the new technology, but I think Ryman just about got away with it in the end. The heroine’s bizarre pregnancy, however, just did not work for me.

Sixteen years on, I stand by both limbs of that judgement. It’s a great book about the impact of technology on a previously isolated culture, and in a lot of respects feels a lot more prophetic now than it did then – the concept of Air is pretty close to how Facebook developed in our timeline. But I still find it hard to swallow (if you see what I mean) the heroine’s pregnancy, and that kills my suspension of disbelief, however much I liked the rest of it.

Air won all three of the BSFA, Tiptree and Clarke Awards presented in 2006, only the second novel (so far) to have got the treble after Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. I think Air has stood the passage of time better. You can get it here.

Both Accelerando, by Charles Stross, and Learning the World, by Ken MacLeod, were also on the BSFA and Clarke shortlists. Also on the BSFA list were 9tail Fox, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, and Living Next Door to the God of Love, by Justina Robson. I felt that all of these books had flaws, but would probably have voted for Ken MacLeod. The BSFA Short Fiction award went to “Magic for Beginners”, by Kelly Link, which also won the Nebula and which I loved.

The other three books on the Clarke shortlist were Banner of Souls, by Liz Williams, Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Pushing Ice, by Alastair Reynolds, which I have not read. I’m surprised that Ishiguro did not win; as a judge I think I’d have been torn between MacLeod and Williams.

I have not read any of the novels on the Tiptree Honor List apart from the winner. The others were A Brother’s Price, by Wen Spencer; Misfortune, by Wesley Stace; Remains, by Mark W. Tiedemann; and Willful Creatures, by Aimee Bender. The shortlist also included short stories by Vonda N. McIntyre and Margo Lanagan, the latter of which I have read but cannot now remember much about. The long list included another twelve novels, four short stories, a website and a non-fiction piece, none of which rings a bell.

The following year, the three awards went to four book, the Tiptree being shared by Shelley Jackson’s Half Life and Cat Valente’s In the Night Garden, the BSFA going to End of the World Blues, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, and the Clarke to Nova Swing, by M. John Harrison.