Future Worlds Prize for Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers of Colour today announced that Mahmud El Sayed is the winner of the 2023 prize, for his novel What the Crew Wants.
The runner up is Ali Mahdi, with his novel Light at Midnight.
The winner and runner-up were chosen from a shortlist of eight by judges Aliette de Bodard, Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, Nikita Gill and Syima Aslam.
El Sayed wins £4,000 and was announced as the winner at an awards ceremony in London this evening. What the Crew Wants is set on the city-ship Safina, 200 years into its journey to establish a new home for humanity. When the generation ship unexpectedly crashes out of warp, the crew faces their biggest test yet.
The judges said: “What the Crew Wants is a very new and fresh take on the Generation Ship, taking the concept and going to some brilliant places with it. The protagonist was well developed, and the world building was excellent, with high stakes. It’s a powerful and unusual story. We felt like we were walking inside the spaceship, seeing all the different people living their lives.”
Mahdi wins £2,000 as the runner-up. Light at Midnight is set in a dystopian London in the near future, and sees protagonist Nur sign up for vocational college. Here, he is cut off from his family and put through visceral and dehumanising training environments, Nur must try to distinguish VR from dreams from reality, and to remember who he really is.
The judges said: “We found Light at Midnight compelling, with a relatable protagonist. There was something incredibly dark and powerful about this story, and it’s stayed with us since we read it. It has some very sharp lines, and in just a few details evokes a situation that doesn’t feel that far off our present.”
The six runners-up of the prize will each receive £800. They are (in alphabetical order by author surname):
- Dawn in Arborellum by Ama Josephine Budge. An uncanny story of interspecies co-dependence, sensuality and isolation in the wake of climate colonialist catastrophe, the judges loved the detail of Dawn in Arborellum and felt they were reading something new.
- The Archer and the Oracle by Anne Elicaño-Shields. The judges found this story of a 17-year-old Filipino-British oracle who swaps places with Eros, the teenage god of love, very readable and humourous.
- The Taste of a Planet by Arianne Maki. Set on an extra-terrestrial Japanese colony in a near-distant future, the judges thought this ambitious novel featured sharply observed relationships between characters.
- Firstborn of the Sun by Marvellous Michael Anson. The panel was gripped by the dynamism and pace in the opening pages of this magical quest narrative.
- The Breath of Silence by Melanie Reynard. Following a series of characters in Arden, a land where science and religion have suppressed magic, the panel was impressed by the world building of this novel and wanted to spend more time with the characters.
- Wisteria Chumleigh by Calah Singleton. The judges praised the world building and imagination of this piece of cosy witch-lit.
Future Worlds Prize for Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers of Colour aims to find new talent based in the UK writing in the SFF space, from magical realism and space operas to dystopia and more.
All shortlisted writers, the runner-up and the winner will also receive mentoring from one of the prize’s publishing partners: Gollancz, Orbit, Hodderscape, Tor and Bloomsbury.
Future Worlds Prize was founded by bestselling author Ben Aaronovitch in 2020, and was previously named the Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award. The prize is financially supported by Aaronovitch and Bridgerton actor Adjoa Andoh. It is administered by Future Worlds Prize CIC, a not-for-profit organisation.
Last year’s prize was won by M H Ayinde, who has since secured an agent for her novel A Shadow In Chains. The 2020 prize was won by Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson for The Principle of Moments, a space-based adventure story. Jikiemi-Pearson has since secured a publishing deal with Gollancz, and her debut novel will be released in 2024.
[Based on a press release.]