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Speaking of awards I pay attention to: today sees the release of the Orange Prize longlist, the Orange being a prize for the best full-length novel by a woman of any nationality, published in the UK between (in this case) 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2011. The authorship requirement always brings with it a certain amount of tedious harrumphing, but I have no problem with it. I do, however, for some reason, feel as though a prize founded on the principle that not all books are treated equally might also be more hospitable to speculative fiction than, say, the Booker. (Particularly since one argument for why there are so few sf novels by women published in the UK is that they get published as mainstream fiction instead.) This has not always been a terribly rewarding belief to hold. This year's longlist, however:

Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

Room by Emma Donoghue

The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi

Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The London Train by Tessa Hadley

Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson

The Seas by Samantha Hunt

The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna

Great House by Nicole Krauss

The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Repeat it Today with Tears by Anne Peile

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin

The Swimmer by Roma Tearne

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

I count at least four books of speculative interest there -- Egan's Goon Squad, with its near-future last chapter and general formal playfulness, Hunt's The Seas, an equipoisal mermaid fantasy, Kavenna's past/present/future The Birth of Love, and the one the Independent leads with, Tea Obreht's magical-realist The Tiger's Wife -- possibly five, if Karen Russell's Swamplandia! turns out to be more than just weird. OK, so there's no genre fiction -- no nods for BSFA and Clarke nominees Lightborn or Zoo City, for instance; no Steph Swainston, either -- and perhaps most disappointingly, no sign of Johanna Sinisalo's Birdbrain. But that's still a quarter of the longlist, and the rest look like a pretty varied bunch as well. So good work, this year's judges.

(Also: given the slightly baffled reaction to the appearance of Declare on the Clarke shortlist, perhaps it's worth noting that The Seas was first published in 2004, and is only now eligible because, like Declare, 2010 was its first UK edition.)

Niall Harrison is a reader and fan.
2 comments on “The Speculative Orange 2011”

I'm a little disappointed not to see Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake on there; but it is, as you say, a nicely varied list -- and certainly better than last year's in terms of fantastic fiction.

A quick follow-up to this post to note that the shortlist has been announced, and none of the books I was interested in (Egan, Hunt, Kavenna, Russell) made it; so it goes. One book with speculative elements did, though, Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife.

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