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Over at Torque Control, this year's shortlist for the Arthur C Clarke Award has been revealed. The Clarke is one of the sf awards I pay the most attention to, on a year-to-year basis. Any sf novel published in the UK in a given calendar year is eligible; a panel of five judges read all the submitted works, decide on a shortlist, then read all the shortlisted books a second time and decide on a winner. All of which is to say I find it relevant (because of the UK focus) and reliable (because of the thoroughness of the process). And this year's shortlist is:

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (Walker)

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz)

Generosity by Richard Powers (Atlantic)

Declare by Tim Powers (Corvus)

Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan (Orbit)

Which is an interesting shortlist, to be sure. Four men, two women; six different publishers, ranging from the long-established sf imprints (Gollancz, Orbit) to the mainstream (Atlantic) to YA (Walker) to promising new kids on the block (Angry Robot, Corvus); one South African, one Northern Irish-flavour Brit, one Irish-American resident in England, one American resident in England, and two Americans resident in America. It's the least British shortlist, both in terms of the nationality of the authors and the content of the books, for quite some time. Compared to the statistics compiled by Martin Lewis, one of the judges, based on the list of works submitted, in fact, we can say that Gollancz and British writers are under-represented compared to what we might "expect" (and similarly women writers and books written in the first person are over-represented).

Earlier this week, to promote the release of the submissions list, there was a competition to guess the Clarke shortlist run at Torque Control. It's interesting to compare the actual shortlist with wisdom of the crowd of fifty-odd people who provided guesses:

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz)

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit)

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Corvus)

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz)

Kraken by China Miéville (Pan Macmillan)

It's easy enough to second-guess some of these, since many people guessed for books they hadn't read, and did so on the basis of their perceptions about the Clarke: so perhaps China Mieville picked up votes because last year he picked up his third Clarke, and perhaps Charles Yu picked up votes because his novel is perceived as "the sort of thing the Clarke will like" (for good or ill). Still, with only two titles overlapping, we can probably say the other four will be seen as omissions by at least some people. (There's actually more overlap with the BSFA Awards shortlists -- Sullivan, Beukes, McDonald -- perhaps suggesting the Clarke isn't as out of touch with the common fan as some might think.) What jumps out at me, however, is that three of the four omissions -- Bacigalupi, Rajaniemi, Yu -- are first novels. It was my sense that 2010 was a pretty good year for new writers, in fact, but that's not something that the actual Clarke list reflects.

Indeed at the other end of the scale we have Tim Powers' Declare, his eleventh novel, and a book that was first published in 2001; but not until last year in the UK, hence its eligibility for the award. He is a freshman in one way, though: this is his first Clarke nomination. The same is true for Beukes, Ness, and Powers R; Sullivan has two previous nominations (and one win, for Dreaming in Smoke), and McDonald has three previous nominations.

All of which stat-crunching may be fun, but is in a sense beside the point: are the books good? I've read four and a half of the nominees. I'm delighted to see McDonald on the list, since I think The Dervish House is the best thing I've read by him; and similarly delighted by the appearance of Ness, which I take as overdue recognition for the whole Chaos Walking series. (Overdue in the UK, at least; in the US, the first volume, The Knife of Never Letting Go, deservedly won the Tiptree Award a couple of years ago.) I'm pleased to see Sullivan and Beukes; I'm not sure Lightborn is Sullivan's best, but it's pleasingly thorny, while Zoo City is a showcase for a very well-done voice and setting. I'm less pleased to see Declare, which I'm reading at the moment and finding to be more or less a wodge of stodge; I'd have taken any of those three debuts in its place, and I'm particularly disappointed there wasn't room for Bacigalupi. (Less disappointed by the absence of Rajaniemi, mostly because according to the letter to the reader in the front of the ARC I own, we now get to see Simon Spanton eating someone's hat.) And I haven't read Generosity yet, although given Paul Kincaid's enthusiastic review for us last year, I've been meaning to get to it sooner than later.

And do these six books make a good list? That's trickier to answer, but in their variety, I think they do. To give you a sense of that variety, I'll leave you with the five reviews we've published here; closer to the announcement of the winner, at the end of April, we'll have an overview of the whole shortlist.



Niall Harrison is a reader and fan.
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