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.