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Another bit of catch-up. While I was travelling, the submissions list for this year's Arthur C. Clarke Award was released, which this year clocks in at a hefty 82 books. As usual there was a bit of discussion. Jared Shurin summarises the inconsistent handling of ebooks here, and Cheryl Morgan comments on the same topic here (in addition to the ones she mentions, Will McIntosh' Soft Apocalypse got a UK ebook edition from Orbit at the end of last year, with no physical edition in the offing that I'm aware of); David Hebblethwaite offers some initial thoughts here, and notes the increase in the number of YA titles submitted; and Nina Allan offers her typically detailed shortlist wishlist and prediction here. The shortlist is due on Friday 4th April, with the winner to be announced on Wednesday 1st May.

As to predictions of my own ... that varies from hour to hour. Clarke judges serve two-year terms, so there's some overlap with last year's idiosyncratic panel, but also some new blood; and with a larger-than-average pool of books, even the pool of plausible candidates is substantial (somewhere between 20 and 25, I reckon).

I think Nina's proposed shortlist is quite convincing. I think I'll leave off Jack Glass from my own guess; partly because you rarely lose money betting on Adam Roberts being left off the Clarke list, but partly also because I don't think it's quite up there with New Model Army and By Light Alone. The first third of Jack Glass is superb, but as a whole I have reservations about how the novel hangs together. Alif the Unseen may also fall by the wayside if the jury is in a core-sf mood, and again I wouldn't feel too bothered by that: there were elements of the novel's cultural commentary I found unconvincing, and narratively I felt the ending shied away from honesty at the last moment.

I think it's very likely we'll see at least one YA novel on the list, of which the most plausible candidates would seem to be Baggott's Pure, Bacigalupi's The Drowned City, and Mieville's Railsea, all of which received a lot of attention and praise. Janet Edwards' Earth Girl may be in with an outside shot: less uniform praise, but those who like it really like it.

What of the other familiar names? McAuley and Reynolds both have novels in the mix, both have been generally positively received, but neither seems to have set the world on fire. I think Blue Remembered Earth is certainly Reynolds' best novel since his last nomination, for House of Suns, though, so I wouldn't be surprised to see it on the list. Baxter I think has not had his strongest year. Egan's The Eternal Flame is mid-series, which tends to count against a book. And then there's Empty Space, which I still haven't read, but which the gestalt of the field seems to think is (or should be) the closest thing we have to a presumptive nominee this year: so the stage is set for another Islanders-style upset. After a lot of debate, I think Empty Space will make it to the shortlist -- but not win.

Newer names? Rajaniemi, I suspect, is in the same boat as Egan. I think James Smythe (for The Explorer more than The Testimony) and Nick Harkaway (for Angelmaker) may be in with a chance, as slick adventure tales. Madeline Ashby's vN has received about equal amounts praise and criticism, that I've seen; I come down on the negative side, in the end, but it strikes me as a book with a lot of hooks that might stick in a judges' minds. Wool is, of course, much talked-about, but (without having read it) seems relatively unoriginal, and without the high-gloss finish that has carried other less-original novels onto the shortlist in the pass.

Which, of course (!), brings us to the quote-unquote mainstream candidates, including the two Booker longlisters, Communion Town and The Teleportation Accident, Kitschies nominee The Method, not-widely-praised The Dog Stars, The Flame Alphabet, Nod, and a couple of others. I think The Method will suffer by comparison to the more conventional sfnal treatment of similar material in Intrusion; the others, I just don't know. But I do want to get around to reading Commmunion Town. (There are a couple of other mainstream-published books I'd have liked to see in contention: notably The Uninvited by Liz Jensen, and Arcadia by Lauren Groff, which would have been a definite shortlist pick for me. But so it goes.)

So where does that leave me? Here's my guess at what the judges will shortlist:

  • vN by Madeline Ashby
  • Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
  • Earth Girl by Janet Edwards
  • Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
  • Empty Space by M. John Harrison
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

And here's what I'd like them to pick:

  • Pure by Juliana Baggott
  • Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
  • Empty Space by M. John Harrison
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Communion Town by Sam Thompson
  • The Method by Juli Zeh

And in ten days we'll know.

Niall Harrison is a reader and fan.
24 comments on “Clarke 2013”

Of your predictions, I think vN, Dark Eden and Angelmaker will be on the list. Empty Space should be on there but I suspect it might slip off. However, I do think Jack Glass has a very good chance this year.
I agree that a YA novel is plausible but I hope it isn't Earth Girl because it is shit. But then perhaps all shortlists need a shit book. I'd love to see Railsea on the list but think it is unlikely. So perhaps one of the Faber & Faber novels.
That leaves me one slot. I'm going to dump 2312 because core SF is well-represented in different ways by vN, Dark Eden and Jack Glass and instead go for a non-genre pick. I can't see Communion Town or The Teleportation Accident doing it but The Method seems more plausible.
Wildcard: Boneshaker as this year's Retribution Falls.

I'll be very surprised if Wool makes it onto the shortlist. It may be this year's self-publishing phenomenon, but it's more in commercial fiction territory rather than genre - despite its setting. It's also not very good.

Great to read your thoughts, Niall. As one of my books of the year for 2012 I would have included Communion Town on my wishlist for sure, but even stretching the envelope to its utmost, I couldn't see a way of arguing it as SF - it's fantasy/fantastika/slipstream (whatever), but not science fiction. Likewise Chris Adrian's The Children's Hospital.

Martin: What makes you so bullish on Jack Glass's prospects? I certainly don't think it's an inconceivable pick, not an entirely unworthy one ... but I think it might be easier to pick holes in than some of the other potential shortlistees.
Nina: Ah, well, now I have to read it to see for myself. I still think Hav is science fiction, so if anyone can justify Communion Town, I'm sure I can. 🙂

Bear in mind that when I did this last year I called all of 2 out of 6 correctly.

I would love to be 'wrong' about Communion Town - and look forward to hearing your views on it in due course. I have no problem categorizing Hav as SF, incidentally - wonderful novel, and too bad it was up against such stiff opposition in 2007...

What makes you so bullish on Jack Glass's prospects?
He may bemoan his empty awards cabinet but Roberts is critically very well regarded and actually does quite well when it comes to shortlists. Yellow Blue Tibia was shortlisted for both the BSFA Award and the Clarke and By Light Alone and now Jack Glass were both shortlisted for the BSFA Award. So I think you have to look for reasons to count him out of the Clarke running rather than in. Usually I would say that factor would be his divisiveness amongst readers (which is why I'm counting Empty Space out). I get the impression that Jack Glass is less divisive and more accessible - for example, the forthcoming Vector review describes it as "the most entertaining to date".

Paul Kincaid

If Empty Space doesn't make the shortlist it will be at least as great a travesty as the omission of The Islanders last year. Jack Glass also should be a certainty, if only because, unlike you, I think it's the best thing he's done. I suspect 2312 should be on the list, though it's not really that good. I would love to see Communion Town on the list, but suspect that would be too radical for the judges.
I'm in the negative camp when it comes to vN, a decent novel spoiled by cartoonish violence and a very poor plot. I'd be very happy to see Angelmaker and Alif the Unseen on the list but suspect I won't. But if Railsea makes it I might just go and shoot myself.

I'm expecting the shortlist to lean towards core genre, but it's difficult to call what may be on there, because there are so many equally plausible contenders (I don't know which of - say - Dark Eden, 2312 or Intrusion is more likely to be shortlisted, for example).
I'd like to see Jack Glass on there, and think it has a decent chance. I think would be nice to see James Smythe on there (though admittedly I haven't read The Explorer yet). I can't see Communion Town making it (if The Islanders couldn't last year, Communion Town won't be able to this). The Method strikes me as the most plausible non-genre contender.

I think Nina Allen's predictions are spot on, but, for the sake of variety, I'll pretend to disagree.
Will be on the list:
Jack Glass
Alif the Unseen
The Teleportation Accident
Wild cards - I could see either Ecko Rising or vN sneaking on there.
Would like to see:
Jack Glass
The Method
Black Opera^H^H^H^H^H^HThe Explorer
Railsea (someone get to Paul in time!)
The Children's Hospital (hugely overlooked)
Folly of the World is sadly too fantasy by whatever standard-of-the-moment is involved. (The same standard that says Alif is ok but... oh forget it.) And mentioning Thy Kingdom Come feels a bit cheeky. So I'll not. Even though I just did. Hmm.

On The Children's Hospital - I agree with Nina's comments above (again). It is more fantastic than speculative.
A lovely book though, if intimidatingly dense. (As a property of the book, not the text. It is a brick.)

Martin: I still perceive Roberts as more divisive than Harrison. Or perhaps differently so ...Harrison gets plenty of "I just don't get it" reactions, but he doesn't usually seem to inspire the actual visceral dislike that some of Roberts' novels have attracted. And that means, in turn, I think, that there's more likely to be an "over my dead body" juror for Roberts than Harrison, sadly.
Paul: the best thing he's done is New Model Army, I reckon. It feels to me that it didn't get the attention it deserved because everyone was still focused on YBT.
And I can't be that absolutist about Harrison. The problem last year, so far as I'm concerned, was not what was left off (I like The Islanders fine, but I didn't experience raptures over it), but about what was included, several novels which just didn't stand up to scrutiny. This year it's very possible to shortlist six excellent novels, none of which are Empty Space,and if that happens, fair enough -- there is no one standard of excellence, and Harrison's take on genre materials is only one among many. On the other hand if the books that are included fall short again, then I'll be grumpy.
David: I feel like we've said that -- we're expecting a core-genre list -- more often in recent years. It would be nice to be confounded.
Jared: More Jack Glass confidence! Maybe I'm just being too pessimistic. I'm intrigued that you think they might go for Beauman, I reads the first five pages in a bookshop and couldn't stand it. (Also, yes, I meant to mention the baffling omission of Black Opera from the submissions list in my initial round up and forgot...)

See if I can do this without double posting.
The Beauman is incredibly love it or leave it. I'm personally in the latter category, but if there are enough of the former on the panel, I can see it getting on there. It is certainly no more divisive than Empty Space, and I can see it poaching that "literary" spot from Harrison. As a Booker longlisted title, it is a selection that's easy to defend, which could also be part of its appeal.

Paul Kincaid

Jared, I certainly hope Existence doesn't make it, it's a terrible lump of a book. And Railsea is a rather careless mishmash of old books with one of the worst endings (failure of nerve? betrayal of all that has gone before?) I've read this year. As for The Children's Hospital, I have been a big fan of Chris Adrian's work since I first read Gob's Grief and I'm delighted that he is starting to get some attention in this country, but it is an old book and that is likely to count against it.
Niall, Jack Glass is far better and more intelligently constructed and more coherent in the way it works than New Model Army.
Yes, last year's Clarke was mostly about the fact that the shortlist excluded so many books that were clearly better than the books that were included. But at the same time I do not believe you could put together a set of six books all of which are clearly better than Empty Space.
If, for instance, Empty Space, Jack Glass, Angelmaker and Alif the Unseen are all excluded from the list (perfectly foreseeable, given what they did shortlist last year), we will have very legitimate cause for concern.
By the way, did Will McIntosh's Slow Apocalypse get UK publication? I missed that. Now there is a book that deserves far more attention than it has ever received.

Soft Apocalypse: yep, Orbit ebook released December 6th. No print edition so far as I'm aware.
Roberts: Oh, no, no, no! Jack Glass has, as I said, a superb first third, which eviscerates one of sf's most venerated modes of thought; but the other two-thirds back down from that position in a disappointing way. (And the twist in the third mystery is too obvious, to boot.) Whereas New Model Army has the great strength of being a Robertsian take on contemporary sfnal tropes and concerns, and is far more ambitious in its narrative structure. So there. 🙂
Shortlist: But that all depends so much on your definition of 'better'. Certainly there are areas where Harrison is very clearly in the front rank. But you won't turn to him for excellence in worldbuilding, you'll go to Robinson; you won't turn to him for deconstruction of political systems, you'll go to MacLeod or Zeh; and you won't go to him for breadth of cultural perspective, you'll go to someone like Wilson. Now my preference would be for a shortlist that showcases many different kinds of sfnal excellence, and I would hope that one slot would be for the Harrison kind. But if it's not, as long as what's picked does have clear distinct strengths, it's defensible.

Paul: The City & the City and Embassytown both had rubbish endings. I suspect Miéville just can't do them.
Niall: though I've yet to read New Model Army, I have read both Jack Glass and Yellow Blue Tibia... and I think Jack Glass is far more accessible than the earlier book. For that reason, I think it stands a good chance of making the shortlist.
I'm not seeing any love for Intrusion, which I thought was the best yet of Ken's near-future sf novels.


Paul, I agree with you on The Children's Hospital - being an older book does count against it. I'd also argue that it vies for the same "overtly literary" spot that Teleportation, Empty Space and Communion Town are all circling like extremely articulate vultures.
Although I'd rather see TCH fill that spot than any of the others... that's pretty unlikely. (Thus the rather sad inclusion in the "like", not "will", etc.)

Ian: Yes! I loved Intrusion - it drove me crazy in places and it stacks the deck something chronic, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as an in-your-face argument of a book.
I haven't read nearly enough 2012 releases to guess a shortlist, particularly given how bizarre last year's list turned out to be. Of the other books besides Intrusion that are being mentioned here, I've only read Pure (beautifully written, splendidly creepy, wrong-footed me a few times) and vN (starts brilliantly, then devolves into a contrived, episodic meander through something that only resembles a plot in a loose sense; if last year's list is anything to go by, it'll almost certainly be on there, alas).
Oh, and Black Opera, but I guess that wasn't submitted and it's fantasy anyway.

I'm fascinated by a lot of this list, and I don't know whether all of them are available in Aus yet or not. But I am fascinated by your championing of Pure, because while I enjoyed it I didn't think it was all that special.

Niall: Harrison gets plenty of "I just don't get it" reactions, but he doesn't usually seem to inspire the actual visceral dislike that some of Roberts' novels have attracted.
I wonder if part of this is that Roberts is a wolf in sheep's clothing: readers go in expecting core genre and recoil in horror at what they find. I suspect less people make that mistake with Harrison. I also think Empty Space could be more divisive than his last two, particularly if you haven't read them.
(As Jared says, The Teleportation Device also strikes me as divisive which is why I didn't punt for it.)
Paul: it is an old book and that is likely to count against it
It is positively youthful next to Declare. I honestly doubt that anyone who has waded through 80 odd novels will turn down one of the rare good books on the grounds it is too old. I'd have thought the fact is pretty much pure fantasy is more likely to count against it.
Paul: If, for instance, Empty Space, Jack Glass, Angelmaker and Alif the Unseen are all excluded from the list, we will have very legitimate cause for concern
If Angelmaker isn't on the shortlist then I'll become a vegetarian.
Ian: I'm not seeing any love for Intrusion
Perhaps we do need to start talking up MacLeod. His after all very well regarded (as shown by the continual BSFA Award presence) and never less than interesting even when less than good.

Niall wrote: I feel like we've said that -- we're expecting a core-genre list -- more often in recent years. It would be nice to be confounded.
That would be nice - but I suspect it's not going to happen this year.
I'd be quite happy to see Intrusion on the shortlist: it's my favourite of the 2012 genre titles I've been reading over the last few months, and stands out as a book that's properly engaged with issues (as opposed to getting sidetracked by a poor action plot, which seems all too common at the moment).
Though I do think that New Model Army is the Roberts novel of recent years that should have been Clarke-shortlisted before all the others, I'd say that Jack Glass is in with a shout and good enough to deserve a place.
Angelmaker is tricky to call. I'm not sure it works quite as well as The Gone-Away World, but I'd be pleased to see it on the shortlist.
I'd also be happy if Nod made it - but, whenever there's an outlier that I want to be shortlisted, it never is, so I'm not getting my hopes up...

On MacLeod: Yes, I should have discussed Intrusion! I think it's one of MacLeod's stronger novels, and could easily be a shortlist contender. I just wonder whether (and the same is true of the Reynolds and the McAuley to an extent) there might be a sense that it doesn't show us a new side of MacLeod, and whether it might get a bit lost in the pack for that reason.
Martin: I suppose also there's the length of career issue; if you don't know what you're going to get from a Harrison novel at this point you haven't been paying attention, whereas Roberts (for all his Hugo-bashing notoriety) is still (I would hope) finding new readers.
I'd have thought the fact is pretty much pure fantasy is more likely to count against it.
Of course that didn't count against Declare much, ho ho.

Well, I note you describe Black Opera as a baffling omission.
For me, Declare is a speculative fiction novel that allows both science fiction and fantasy readings and doesn't necessarily privilege either. You've got other stories that about the intrusion of the supernatural that lean overtly to fantasy and a few such as Charles Stross's Laundry novels that lean overtly SF but Declare balances in the middle. Actually, I wonder where London Falling by Paul Cornell falls on the spectrum since that was submitted.
But actually this is all irelevent since I've just realised I had confused The Children's Hospital with The Great Night so I was talking from a position of complete ignorance.

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