Unquenchable Fire, by Rachel Pollack

Second paragraph of third chapter:

After the liberation of Vera Cruz, Miracle Of The Green Earth (in beauty and truth lives his name forever) saw that the people needed to break with the past. He sent each one a dream in which a yellow dog whispered, ‘Break down the storehouses, burn the food, the world begins today.’ When the people woke up they piled all their food in the streets and burned it. Then they ran to destroy groceries, silos, even the crops waiting in the fields. When they had finished they stood swaying in the morning rain, listening to the wind blowing through their empty stomachs.

I thought this was great. It’s set in a near-future world where spiritual forces have taken over, for good and ill, and Jenny from Poughkeepsie becomes pregnant from a dream. It is somewhere between Philip K. Dick and Ted Chiang, though closer to Dick, with a distinct slant of feminist spirituality. There is a lot of vivid language and exploration of the underlying myths (which may be real) of Jenny’s world. It’s not at all the sort of thing one associates with Arthur C. Clarke’s writing (on which more soon) but it is definitely in line with his intellectual interests in later years, and I can see how the judges might have decided to give it the nod.

Unquenchable Fire won the third Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1989 (after The Handmaid’s Tale and The Sea and Summer). Of the other shortlisted books, I have read only Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard, which can’t remember much about though I think it was not quite as good as this. (Life During Wartime and another shortlisted novel were also on the BSFA shortluist that year; one of the other shortlisted books won the Kurd Laßwitz Preis; another won a prize for books about vampires; none was a finalist for the Hugo or Nebula, won respectively by Cyteen and Falling Free.) Pollack’s most extensive writing has been not sf but on the Tarot; she also wrote 24 issues of the comic book Doom Patrol.

My next prize-winning novel will be that year’s BSFA winner – Lavondyss, by Robert Holdstock.