The Sea and Summer, by George Turner

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Francis was obviously got up in his best clothes. A mistake: that age is more relaxed when a little scruffy and grubby. At the school he had been animated because he was showing off; here he was nervous, unsure of himself now that the performance was no longer a game.

I confess that I knew nothing of this book or of the writer, and had no expectations whatsoever; and I also confess that I really liked it. It's set in a dystopian Australia of the near future (though the story is told with a framing narrative of researchers from the not-quite-so-near future looking back and trying to work out what was going on, a device I usually love). Society is divided between the well-off Sweet and the proletarian Swill, and the central characters are a family who slip from the former to the latter, with a specific plot strand around the exposure of a massive plot by the government against their own people – though really I feel that as much as anything the setting is the story.

Australia is quite a good venue for post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian fiction, come to think of it. I have seen only one of the Mad Max films, but just a moment's reflection brings up Tank Girl, the Australian K9 series (nominally set in London, though I don't think anyone is fooled), The Year of the Angry Rabbit, and more seriously On The Beach.

Anyway, The Sea and Summer is well-executed, at least partly a critique of the present day (in ways that still need the same critique thirty years on). I'm a bit surprised I hadn't heard more about it, and will keep an eye out for Turner's other work.

This won the second ever Arthur C. Clarke Award back in 1988, beating Gráinne which got the BSFA Best Novel awarded that year. The following year's winners were Unquenchable Fire by Rachel Pollack (Clarke) and Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock (BSFA), and I'll take them in that order.