Speech for Arthur C. Clarke Award, 24 August 2016

My speech as Non-voting Chair of JudgesTM at Foyles, 24 August 2016. Gratifyingly well received.
 

Novels with spaceships and novels with spiders,
near future Europe with parallels beside her,
a modified woman – flying with wings,
these are a few of my favourite things.

You’d think after thirty years it’d be easy to choose the Clarke winner – we’d turn up and all know that that novel is the one.

But this year we had a tough time getting to a short list and a tough time agreeing on a winner.

All of the books play with and reinvigorate the sandbox of science fiction – generation starships, ill-matched crews, AIs, parallel universes, mutants and have one or more moments of conceptual breakthrough, when you realise that the fictional universe is more complicated than you think.

It was suggested to me by Ian Whates, Leila Abu El Hawa, Andrew McKie, Liz Bourke and David Gullen that in a sense all the books on the short list were winners

But I pointed to the rule that There Can Be Only One.

Might it be Dave Hutchinson’s Europe at Midnight, follow-up to his Clarke shortlisted Europe in Autumn, with the Balkanised Europe now neighboured by a pocket universe consisting of a university, a pocket university, if you will? Of course, this is a very timely book, a very important book, said one of the judges, and we were deciding on a winner just over a week after the Brexit vote. This is my favourite book, said one of the judges.

There’s a pocket world in Iain Pears’s Arcadia, which laminates together a Tolkien-esque author and their fantasy world, and time travel from the near future to a parallel world. Pears nods, of course, to Tolkien and Lewis, to Sir Philip Sidney and to As You Like It, as well as many other references. Pears’s app add to the reading experience, challenges the linearity of reading and adds to the pleasure of the novel. This is my favourite book, said one of the judges.

Or might it be, Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Kitshchie award-winning, originally self-published, lazily comparable to Firefly, but it does diversity and explores identity so much better than Whedon and almost effortlessly. Great fun, this is my favourite book, said one of the judges.

Or might it be a book that has to overcome a phobia of many of its readers and at least one of our judges, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time. This is an epic tale, told across generations, as the last of humanity think they have found a terraformed planet to settle, only it is defended by an AI who is protecting the dominant species of the planet, which has been uplifted (and the novel has at least one nod to David Brin). Defying disbelief, that species turns out to be able to defend itself more than adequately. This is my favourite book, said one of the judges.

Alternatively, J.P. Smythe’s Way Down Dark is also set on a ship that has a voyage which will last generations –but here the passengers are awake, but society is falling apart. Chan has tried to maintain the Arboretum against the attacks of a savage gang. When her mother dies, Chan has to become leader in her place and save the ship. But nothing is quite as it seems and we are taken on quite a journey in the first of a trilogy. This is my favourite book, said one of the judges.

Finally, Nnedi Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix, a prequel to Who Fears Death, forces the reader to confront some interested moral questions in the choice of protagonist – in some ways it’s a superhero origin story, but in truth it is more complex. Phoenix Okore is a modified, accelerated woman, imprisoned in a skyscraper in New York. When she breaks out in search of the truth, it starts a bloody chain of events in Ghana and the U.S. This is my favourite book, said one of the judges.

You can see our problem. What do you mean by favourite?

Each year, for thirty years, the judges have to decide that for themselves. A different set of judges every year and a different favourite. How did they decide this year?

Novels with spaceships and novels with spiders,
near future Europe with parallels beside her,
a modified woman – flying with wings,
these are a few of my favourite things.

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