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