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As has become traditional, the Arthur C Clarke Award has published the full list of works submitted for consideration by publishers, and are running a competition to guess the shortlist (winner to receive the six novels in question).

The metric that has gained the most attention in recent years, as a measure of the health of the UK field, is the proportion of novels by women; this year there are 12 (or 13 if you count Blackout and All Clear as two), or about 1 in 5, which is actually up from the last couple of rounds, but hardly anything to shout about. (6 of those were submitted by Gollancz; no other genre publisher submitted a single title written by a woman.) The other, and related, thing that stands out is that very few YA titles were submitted: so no Costa-winning Blood Red Road by Moira Young, no much-praised Across the Universe by Beth Revis, no long-awaited Aurora by Julie Bertagna (also no Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi). I can come up with the usual smattering of mainstream-published novels I'd like to have seen in the running, most notably City of Bohane by Kevin Barry, IQ84 by Haruki Murakami, and The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung. And there are also a smattering of baffling omissions by genre publishers, including Debris by Jo Anderton (Angry Robot), The Cold Commands by Richard Morgan (Gollancz) and The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett (Orbit).

All of which said, I don't know that very many of those missing books would actually be in the running were I a judge this year. So let's turn our attention to the possible shortlist, and the story it could tell about science fiction in the UK in 2011. And there are two guesses to be made here: the shortlist I'd like to see, and the shortlist I think we will see. For the latter, I don't think I'll deviate substantially from my original predictions. This year's Clarke could in theory tell almost the same story as the BSFA shortlist, since all five nominees were submitted (Lakin-Smith, Mieville, Priest, Roberts, Tidhar). I don't think it will: I don't think Lakin-Smith is quite there yet, and Roberts does not tend to do well in this game. Which leaves me with:

Bringer of Light by Jaine Fenn

Embassytown by China Mieville

The Islanders by Christopher Priest

Rule 34 by Charles Stross

Osama by Lavie Tidhar

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Some rationale: I think Mieville, Priest and Tidhar are pretty certain picks, well within the Clarke's comfort zone, having accumulated a significant amount of praise. Whitehead I haven't read, but looks like Clarke catnip, exactly the sort of mainstream-published genre the award likes to recognise. And Fenn and Stross are there because I think this year's judges may (as a group) skew towards the core of the field rather than away from it. Jaine Fenn's stock seems to be slowly on the rise, and I've seen mentions of Rule 34 sufficiently positive as to make it seem like a step up for Stross.

The shortlist I would like to see, on the other hand, looks more like this:

The Great Lover by Michael Cisco

The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan

Wake Up and Dream by Ian R MacLeod

Osama by Lavie Tidhar

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood

In part this is grass-is-greener wishful thinking; there are a lot of books on this list I've been meaning to read but haven't yet (particularly the Wood). In part it comes down to this: I want this year's Clarke Award to tell me a story I haven't heard yet. If the eventual shortlist is too close to the BSFA shortlist, or my predicted shortlist above, it will feel like a story I've already heard, about books where a strong consensus opinion has formed. Something closer to the second shortlist, with fewer books that have had that level of coverage, something that makes me look again at last year, would be more satisfying this year. We'll find out what the judges have actually picked at the end of March.

Niall Harrison is a reader and fan.
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