Leading Critics Form Clarke Award “Shadow” Jury

Nina Allan has announced a “shadow” jury will critique the Clarke Award this year, composed of Megan AM (“The AM stands for Anti-Matter”), Vajra Chandrasekera, David Hebblethwaite, Victoria Hoyle, Nick Hubble, Paul Kincaid, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and Jonathan McCalmont.

Allan explains in her introduction:

The idea is not to ‘challenge’ the official jury in any way, but to bring more to the party: more readers, more critics, more books, more discussion. And the beauty of a shadow jury is that everything can be out in the open. Over the following weeks and months, you’ll be able to read along with us, find out which books we love and which we’re not so wild about – and more to the point, why. I’d bet there isn’t a single Clarke-watcher out there who hasn’t at some point found themselves completely at a loss over some jury decision or other.

THROWING SHADE. Will fans feel a thrill of controversy because the group is taking the form of a jury, and reminding people about occasions when they were “completely at a loss” at a Clarke jury decision? (No one will soon forget Christopher Priest’s rant about the 2012 shortlist.) Will the prestigious critics on the shadow jury – some of them among the best-known working today – end up overshadowing the official jury? Is there any reason to mind if they do?

STATEMENTS AND MANIFESTOS. The Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy, hosting the jury online, has launched its activities with lengthy justifications. And as an added resource, they have posted Paul Kincaid’s introduction to a 2006 essay collection about the award-winners.

ANNOUNCING THE SHADOW CLARKE 2017: a note from the Centre by Helen Marshall

The Arthur C. Clarke awards are different from the Hugos in that shortlist and eventual winner are determined solely by a juror, thus, in many respects, bypassing the contentious process of lobbying and promotion that has accompanied voted awards. And yet the award has been no less controversial. Paul Kincaid, in his introduction to The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology, writes that the original organisers at no point set out firm criteria for what was meant by “best”, by “science fiction”, or even by “novel” (12). In consequence, the earnest debates—of individual juries as well was the broader community of reviewers and critics—have both through their agreement and their opposition sketched out a fascinating survey of what science fiction might have meant in any given year.

After the Clarke award celebration in 2016, when Nina Allan first approached me about arranging a shadow jury of the Clarke Awards, I could see the value of the suggestion. Similar experiments have been illuminating in respect to mainstreams awards such as the prestigious Man Booker Prize, but no such experiment, to my knowledge, has been undertaken for a science fiction award. 2017 seems a particularly auspicious year to begin particularly because it is a time in which many in the community feel the need for an outlet for reasoned debate and discussion. Of course it isn’t our intention that the shadow jury will challenge the decision of the conventional jury; rather the value of the experiment comes, I think, in expanding the commentary. Questions about the state of the field and the underlying definitions of “best” and “science fiction” continue to be meaningful, particularly in an industry that is increasingly dominated by marketing categories and sales figures rather than criticism. What science fiction is and what it ought to be doing should continue to be debated if the field is going to evolve beyond the commercial pressures that inevitably influence the decision to publish.

ANNOUNCING THE SHADOW CLARKE 2017: an introduction and a manifesto by Nina Allan

It goes without saying that the overall health of a literary award is determined by the quality of the debate surrounding it. No matter how lucrative the prize or how glossy the promotion, no award can remain relevant or even survive unless people – readers, critics and fans alike – are actively talking about the books in contention. For readers, fans and critics to remain engaged, an award must aspire to foster an intellectual climate in which rigorous and impassioned debate is seen as an important and significant aspect of the award itself. Such a climate will by definition ensure that an award can not only survive, but flourish.

Inspired by the shadow juries that have worked wonders in enlivening the climate of debate around mainstream literary awards over the past few years, we thought it would be a fantastic idea to harness some of the considerable critical talent that exists within the SFF community in similarly enlivening the climate of debate and critical engagement around the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

The normal process by which shadow juries operate involves a panel of shadow jurors – usually drawn from those readers, critics and book bloggers who habitually follow the award – reading the official longlist of their chosen award when it is released, reviewing the books individually and then coming together as a jury to decide on a shadow shortlist: that is, the shortlist they would have chosen had they been the official jury. When the official shortlist for the prize is announced, the shadow jury would then critique that shortlist, before once again convening to vote on their shadow winner. In the case of the shadow juries for awards such as the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (now the Man Booker International) and the Baileys Prize, the shadow winner has normally been unveiled on the evening before the announcement of the official prize. One need only cast a casual glance around the literary blogosphere to see how the presence of shadow juries within the literary landscape has increased the feeling of excitement and personal involvement on the part of readers, armchair critics and students of literature.

Because the Arthur C. Clarke Award does not at present implement a longlist stage, the formula we have agreed upon is a little different, but will hopefully prove at least as effective in fostering debate, if not more so.

Our panel of shadow jurors will convene when the submissions list for the Arthur C. Clarke Award is made public. From the list of these submissions, each shadow juror will then select their own personal, preferred shortlist of six books – these could be books they have already read, books they are keen to read, or a mixture of the two. Having chosen their shortlist, each juror will commit to reading and reviewing their six books before eventually declaring the ‘winner’ they would have chosen, had their shortlist been the official one. We believe that by giving each shadow juror the opportunity to select and discuss what they believe was ‘best’ in ‘science fiction’ in 2016, the Shadow Clarke will be able to showcase a wider variety of books, writers and styles of science fiction, thus generating a sense of involvement and inclusion across the entire length and breadth of science fiction fandom. It goes without saying that we would encourage fans and readers beyond the shadow jury to read along with us, to posit their own guesses and above all to disagree with our choices! That is what critical engagement is all about.

INTRODUCTION from The Arthur C. Clarke Award: a critical anthology by Paul Kincaid

[[Paul Kincaid has been on over a dozen Clarke Award juries, many times serving as the chair. He co-edited The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology (2006) with Andrew Butler, another frequent juror and chair. This is an excerpt from his introduction.]]

…Since Clarke wanted to use the award to encourage British science fiction, our second topic for debate was whether the award should be limited to British writers. In the end we all felt that there were just too few British writers to make that sustainable, so we decided that the award would be for the best science fiction novel receiving its first British publication in the year.

…It is what was left to the jury that has made the Arthur C Clarke Award both idiosyncratic and controversial, often at the same time. At no point did we decide what was meant by ‘best’, by ‘science fiction’, or even by ‘novel’. Consequently, the jury meetings I’ve taken part in have featured some very lively debates on each of these topics – and no two juries have ever arrived at precisely the same definitions.

It is, however, the very nature of those debates, the fact that what is considered ‘best’ or ‘science fiction’ is going to be different every year, that has made the Arthur C Clarke Award such a lively and essential survey of the year in science fiction. As The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by Peter Nicholls and founding judge John Clute is at pains to point out, the award was controversial from its very first year. When Margaret Atwood received the first Arthur C Clarke Award for The Handmaid’s Tale, it seemed that the Award was deliberately turning its back on the core of the genre (particularly given that the runner-up that year was Bob Shaw’s The Ragged Astronauts – not, as Edward James has suggested, Samuel R. Delany’s Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand). In fact what I think that first jury was doing, after what I recall as very close debate, is something that has been a surprisingly recurrent practice of juries since then: they were not looking in towards the heart of the genre, but outwards from the genre. As Nicholas Ruddick points out, The Handmaid’s Tale has had such resonance, both within and outwith the genre, that it is hard to think why it might ever have been considered a controversial choice.

Of course, that was far from the only time that the Award has skirted controversy. If stimulating debate, not to say heated argument, is one way of raising awareness of science fiction, then we have to admit that the Award has been a rousing success since the start. Tempers have tended to fray most when the Award is imagined to be flirting with the mainstream. There was even jeering at the presentation of the Award to Marge Piercy for Body of Glass (again, I suspect, this was at least in part because the runner up was another popular genre favourite, Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson). But, as Maureen Kincaid Speller shows, you don’t need a rocket ship on the cover to raise exactly the problematic issues of who we are and what we might become which are supposedly central to everything we understand about science fiction.

… Of course the job of the Award is to raise awareness of science fiction, not just inside the genre but more generally, but that is not achieved by saying science fiction and the mainstream are the same. Rather, the Award points out how many interesting, exciting, challenging and innovative things there are to be done with genre materials, some of those things speak to the core of the genre and some bring a freshness and vitality to mainstream, and some do both….

[Thanks to Mark-kitteh for the story.]

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31 thoughts on “Leading Critics Form Clarke Award “Shadow” Jury

  1. Are we readers of Science Fiction such a contentious lot that no award is ever safe from disputes? Read what you like, find a blogger or two or three whose opinion you respect and the hell with the others.

  2. I have a couple of competing thoughts about this. Firstly, there’s no doubt that more conversation = good, and surely the Clarke will welcome any addition to the discussion.
    I do wonder though, if you’re going to enpanel a full jury and ghost the entire process, at what point should you just, you know, run your own actual award instead?
    The article made me wonder who this year’s real Clarke jury was:

    Shana Worthen, Paul March-Russell, Una McCormack, Charles Christian, Andrew McKie; Andrew M. Butler (chair)

    While the actual jury seems to be a worthy one, I have to admit that I recognised more names on the shadow jury. (I offer that for what little it’s worth; name recognition is hardly an important criteria for an award juror)

  3. @Mark: “Shadow Juries” are not an uncommon thing, in the UK at least; a number of children’s/YA prizes run groups around the country, and in recent years bloggers have self-organised to run juries for the Man Booker International prize and the Bailey’s Prize, very much along the lines of this Clarke shadow jury. And of course in years when the schedule permits it, the Science Fiction Foundation typically organises a panel at the UK Eastercon discussing the Clarke shortlist and picking what they think should win / will win. This version is slightly unusual in having an academic institution hosting/sponsoring it, but other than that is very similar to the Baileys and Man Booker panels, and I’m looking forward to following along with their deliberations.

  4. So tired of this. If you want to play at jury, don’t do it by freeloading on another award. If you only want to get more people to read and discuss SF, there are loads of other ways.

  5. @Niall

    Oh, I’m certainly going to follow this with interest and hopefully throw in my tuppence along the way.

    I’ve seen shadow juries for other awards before, yes. I may well have missed some that do it on this scale, but to me this seemed unusual in the combination of having a full and well-qualified jury that could credibly act as the actual jury, the level of detail they intend to go to, and the extent to which they intend to publicize it. It seems like a fuller effort than e.g. blogging your alternative choices, or a single panel. (Again, I may just be unfamiliar with efforts that do go this far though)

  6. They say they’re not challenging the jury, but the challenge seems implicit in the very idea. Am I missing something? I will admit the concept of a shadow jury is a new one to me.

  7. Hmmm I can picture this as less of a criticism and more of a “what if?” in that in an award based on juror choice, if you change the jury, how different might the results be, unlike an award based on voter results. I don’t see the word critique in Nina’s post, though critics are mentioned as part of the shadow jury. An interesting idea, to see where two different groups overlap and where they will differ.

  8. FFS if you disagree that strongly with the Clarke Award, set up your own award, don’t just ghost/throw shade on an established award.

    Seems very petty and mean-spirited from the shadow jury. Call it the British Annual SF Survey award or something and go your own way. As stated above, there’s no long list associated with the Clarke so just start from the universe of eligible works, make it an open process and go from there.

    It’s very puppy-esque in that it reeks of “what I like didn’t win, so there is something wrong on the internets”

  9. I strongly suspect that those directly involved with the shadow jury will care about it a lot, and most of the rest of science fiction fandom will just ignore them.

  10. @Chris S.

    That is a bit of an over-reaction.

    a) there is a tradition of shadow-panels in literary awards. They exist not to crap all over the award, but to give extra visibility, extra debate around the award as the official jury deliberations are secret.
    b) there was a tradition of ‘Not the Clarkes’ panels at Eastercon which considered the shortlist in a much shorter period of time. Changes in dates mean that can no longer happen.
    c) two of the shadow jury have been part of the real jury.
    d) Tom Hunter, the Clarke Award director, is very positive about the existence of the shadow jury.

    At Eastercon last year there was a general discussion about the Clarke Award and the lack of a focus for critical discussion, not just the books but also what the award should be for, so I hope that the shadow jury will help form that, and provide a forum for outside discussion too.

  11. @Aaron

    The ‘Not The Clarkes’ panel was always extremely well attended. If they do it right I don’t see why a similar number wouldn’t be interested.

  12. I think there’s something about the phrasing and focus of the official announcement that’s getting this particular reaction — it really hardly touches on what the shadow jury is, or is good for. (“I could see the value of the suggestion. Similar experiments have been illuminating in respect to mainstreams awards.” OK then.)

    Nina Allen’s piece is much better, focusing on enlivening the debate. Even that one starts out with a tone of “the award needs us” — but very quickly it moves on to the immediate benefits of lively discussion, explaining the procedure, telling us what to expect. And she invites additional enthusiasts to be a part of the discussion – always encouraging 🙂

    I can see how the official announcement might come across as a very self-appointed institution. Allen’s post sounds very appealing, though. I’m happy to see more discussion; I look forward to seeing what they come up with and what tone they strike. All the best to them 🙂

  13. Sunhawk: I don’t see the word critique in Nina’s post,

    She uses the word in her manifesto, also linked in the post:

    At the same time as selecting their personal shortlists, the shadow jury would then go on to read and critique the official Clarke shortlist when it is announced, before coming together as a jury to vote upon the shadow winner. In accordance with shadow jury tradition, the winner of the Shadow Clarke would be announced on the day before the announcement of the official winner.

  14. This well-known tradition seems to be known to damn few – some examples might be helpful

  15. Standback: You know from your own experience that it’s not easy to kick off a popular discussion simply by extending a nice, respectful invitation to get involved. I would not be surprised if some of these choices in form and language have been made so that the enterprise sounds edgy enough to attract an audience.

  16. @Mike

    I would not be surprised if some of these choices in form and language have been made so that the enterprise sounds edgy enough to attract an audience.

    Very good point, a bit of spice is probably good to get the conversation flowing.

    I do wonder where they envisage this wider conversion taking place – in comments on their site, off-site on other blogs? Any conversion requires a bit of a critical mass to get it really flowing, so they need a plan that will get people cross-talking with each other.

  17. @ Lois,

    Niall above provided examples. Like he said I’ve seen shadow juries (usually run by a well known book blogger) for The Bailey’s Prize, the Man Booker International Prize and the Desmond Elliot Prize for best debut novelists. It seems to be a UK rather than US tradition. And other than the Not The Clarke’s panel at Eastercon this will be the first shadow jury for a genre award. Personally I believe the Hugo’s and Nebulas could do with a similar treatment.

    And people need to calm down. The purpose is to encourage debate about a published longlist or shortlists. The Not The Booker Prize that (I think) the Gaurdian runs every year is extremely popular. It’s not a shadow jury as described above but it does encourage debate about the books the actual jury ignored, didn’t like, missed out on.

    At the very least this sort of thing should increase people’s to be read piles.

  18. What I’d find really helpful here is a clear address for following along with this.

    I’m psyched and definitely want to see what the shadow jury writes, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve got a webpage or a Twitter account or anything clear for me to follow.

    Ah well. At least I can count on File770 to keep me posted 🙂

  19. “And people need to calm down.”

    Why not accept that the Puppy fiasco is still fresh in people’s mind and that there is a reason why people aren’t as calm as you would prefer?

  20. Standback: I’m psyched and definitely want to see what the shadow jury writes, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve got a webpage or a Twitter account or anything clear for me to follow.

    Moi aussi! My reaction to the Clarke finalists is usually mixed: half I’ll have loved, and half I’ll have thought “meh”. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion — which looks as though it can be found here.

  21. @Ian Mond

    And people need to calm down

    Interesting. Should a process set up to discuss and critique the Clarke be immune from discussion and critique itself?

  22. @Mark

    And should those that critique the shadow jury be immune from discussion and critique? Fleas ad infinitum.

    Seriously the process, and the jury member’s opinions of the books, should not be immune from discussion. As I understand it that is a part of why it has been set up – to foster such debate. However comparisons to the puppies, and it being a leech on the back of a successful award are not helpful and totally wrong.

  23. @andyl

    I don’t believe I made either of those points (puppies, leeching). The “calm down” from Ian was pretty much a tone argument though, which I generally find acts to shut down discussion rather than foster it, and I’m more interested in seeing discussion.
    My reaction to this idea is broadly positive but I have some reservations, which I’m quite happy to wait and see about, but am also interested in chewing over here because, well, talking about this sort of stuff is interesting.

  24. ‘This well-known tradition seems to be known to damn few – some examples might be helpful’

    I know in Ireland teachers get interested students to ‘shadow’ the Children’s Books Ireland Awards, reading the selected books and voting for a winner amongst themselves.

  25. @Mark I don’t believe I made either of those points (puppies, leeching).

    Sorry I was talking in general, not your specific comments.

  26. Yes, sorry about the calm down remark – though I still think there’s a cultural disconnect going on here.

    Anyway, the rest of what I’ve said stands. This is going to be fun.

  27. @Mike – whoops my bad, I was just looking at Nina’s first linked post.

    Maybe this is obvious, but critique doesn’t necessarily mean disagree, I think it’s likely that these critiques will have some elements of “I agree with this” as much as “I disagree with this” in evaluating the finalists.

    I also think it’s a shame that the Puppies thing has made a lot of us more sensitive to the whole idea of critiquing awards, maybe it would help to keep in mind both a) people are now gonna worry even just a bit that something like the Puppies may happen again with a different award which is understandable b) that it’s not necessarily the case that a group effort that appears to have some similarities with the Puppies history gonna play out the same way so why not try to give the benefit of the doubt until things do actually start playing out that way.

    Basically I’m trying to look at this shadow jury in the spirit of good faith (which includes a self-reminder in the spirit of compassion that feelings are still tender all around post-Puppy so I get why people are wary) and take a wait and see attitude, maybe this shadow jury thing will turn out real neat and respectful and full of thought-provoking discussions.

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