Priest’s KTF Review of Clarke Shortlist

Christopher Priest does not like the Arthur C. Clarke Award nominees. Despite teeing off in a style reminiscent of Spinrad, his arguments are as easily understood as Seuss: Priest thinks these picks are mostly wrong. He thinks the books are not too strong. He says throw this shortlist in the trash. He would not give these books the cash.

The Arthur C. Clarke Award goes to the best sf novel first published in the UK during the previous year, as chosen by a panel of judges from the British Science Fiction Association, the Science Fiction Foundation and (this time around) the SCI-FI LONDON film festival.

Priest complains:

We have a dreadful shortlist put together by a set of judges who were not fit for purpose. They were incompetent. Their incompetence was made more problematical because the overall quality of the fiction in the year in question was poor. They did not know how to resolve this. They played what they saw as safe.

They failed themselves, they failed the Clarke Award, and they failed anyone who takes a serious interest in speculative fiction.

Priest says he’s dismayed that several quality books didn’t make the list, and sketches the defects of the actual choices. It makes entertaining reading so long as you’re not the author of one of the books involved. (And even then, judging from Charles Stross’ reaction, which was to issue a commemorative t-shirt.)

Priest’s 5-point plan for averting a travesty is:

1. The present panel of judges should be fired, or forced to resign, immediately. Their names are Juliet E. McKenna, Martin Lewis, Phil Nanson, Nikkianne Moody and Rob Grant. Chairman Andrew M. Butler should also resign. These people have proved themselves incompetent as judges, and should not be allowed to have any more say about or influence on the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
2. The 2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award should be suspended forthwith, and the planned awards ceremony on 2nd May should be cancelled.
3. The award fund (£2,012.00, as I understand it) should be held over until next year. Next year’s fund should be added to it, so that the prize for 2013 becomes £4,013.00.
4. The 2013 Clarke Award should be made to the best novel published in the two years ended 31st December 2012. All novels currently eligible for the 2012 award, whether or not they have been shortlisted by this year’s panel, are eligible again.
5. All the other usual rules of the Award should be applied.

Bloggers are weighing in, beginning with the dean, John Scalzi, who says he was able to read many of these novels without holding his nose:

[I] believe that if Embassytown is China Mieville underachieving, we should all slack as well as he. But of course that’s my point, and in any event it’s a rare nomination slate for any literary award that does not have someone railing against it as a parade of mediocrities, or worse.

In contrast to Scalzi’s light touch, Damien G. Walter of the Guardian decided Priest’s personal tone needed to be reciprocated in spades. Unfortunately, Walter merely indulged in pseudo-psychological slurs like the following, code for Priest is old:

First the New Wave, then wave after wave of SF writers have swept past Christopher Priest. Many of them far less intelligent. Most of them far less educated in the field of SF. And now, just when Priest might have expected to be acclaimed as an elder statesman of the genre, another wave of writers have taken the limelight instead.

Maybe it’s being a fanzine fan has made me touchy about that kind of thing, but darned if Walter didn’t leave me almost feeling sorry for Priest, and having read a lot of Priest’s rants over the years (here let me borrow Ben Bradlee’s line) I didn’t think that was possible.

[Thanks to James Bacon for Priest’s post and Ansible Links for the responses.]

Update 03/30/2012: Corrected the affiliation of one Clarke judge per Mark Plummer’s comment.

12 thoughts on “Priest’s KTF Review of Clarke Shortlist

  1. Thanks for the link — Valente’s post is terrific.

    Interesting she should joke about Harold Bloom and then bring into the conversation the idea of Priest’s potential as a negative influencer that someone might react to as a challenge to strive for better work. Bloom (quoted in another critic’s book on influence) is the writer who opened my eyes to that being a type of artistic influence

  2. I have no idea who those panelist/judges are. But then, I don’t know anyone who started writing SF after 1990 or 1995 anyway… Except Rob Grant. He’s the guy who co-created Red Dwarf. As much as I loved Red Dwarf, I have profound doubts that Grant is the right person to judge SF. for one thing, the RD books he wrote (some with Doug Naylor, the other co-creator) aren’t very good. For another, the longer the TV show went on, the less well focused it became. By the end, it was nearly “Carry on up the Spaceship.” I wonder whether the success of Red Dwarf wasn’t in some sense an accident, and that Grant really didn’t know what he was doing.

  3. Mike,

    ‘… as chosen by a panel of judges from the British Science Fiction Association, the Science Fiction Foundation and SF Crowsnest.’

    A small detail, but accorindg to the list of judges on the ACCA website there’s no SF Crowsnest judge this year. Rob Grant was appointed by the SCI-FI-LONDON film festival.
    – Mark

  4. Thanks Mark. Lame as it sounds, I resorted to the Wikipedia for this info after dredging around the Clarke site without finding it. Do you have a link too?

  5. SCI-FI LONDON’s announcement of the Clarke shortlist identifies Robert Grant as its Literary Editor.

  6. I checked the thread over there and especially admired Michael Walsh’s forthright testimony about the availability of Priest’s novel The Separation. File 770 readers need to know about this too!

  7. I like the fact that Priest has the courage to tell it like it is. On the other hand, I do have a problem with his rigor. To wit: he states that the field was incredibly weak but provides no argument as to what evidence there is to support it. Comments were also closed on his blog, and as far as I know, have still not been opened. These are only two examples that, to me, demonstrate at least some level of intellectual weakness.

    I published in 2011 and my book was on the longlist (not through merit, simply because my publisher submitted it); so were a number of other authors, who I would guess that Priest has never read. If one plans to smear such a signficant portion of the 2011 SF field, the least one could do is write a quick sentence to each book and demonstrate that one has read them! Yes, it’s a lot of work. If it’s too much work, then just leave the rest of us out of it and have at the shortlist.

    In the end, though, I’m not sure I even care all that much. Good luck to all the shortlisters and congratulations. :)

  8. “Comments were also closed on his blog, and as far as I know, have still not been opened.”

    To the best of my knowledge his “Journal” (as he calls it) has never been “open for comments”.

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