Non-voting Chair of Judge’s Speech, 2022 Arthur C. Clarke Award

Watching them come and go

The judges and the submissions

They’re judging the Clarke Award

Opening trilogies

Pleasure comes and torture goes

Scribes who’d give you anything

Some bear the bird of Penguin Books

Submission for the Clarke Award

A hundred books submitted, six books shortlisted, five judges: Phoenix Alexander; Crispin Black; Nicole Devarenne; Stark Holborn; Nick Hubble.

There was laughter, there was tears, there was playing with dead mice.

And that was just the cats sneaking onto our Zoom call.

There’s a particularly pleasurable agony of getting down to six books, which contrasts with the agonising pleasure of picking the winner. Some of the names are familiar to us from earlier shortlists.

Kazuo Ishiguro has been shortlisted before, for Never Let Me Go. Klara and the Sun is set in an unspecified near future city, with the Artificial Friend Klara, who forges a relationship with a young girl who is ill. The story is following up some of Ishiguro’s earlier themes and forces us to be limited to Klara’s view of the world; nevertheless, we can guess what is going to happen and we watch with horror and fascination as we read what one judge called “one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in the last year” and another labelled an anti-Pinocchio. There is love between the Artificial Friend and the real friend, but it might not always run both ways.

Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace is the follow-up to the previously shortlisted A Memory Called Empire, which some of our judges hadn’t read and didn’t feel it made this quote “massively sprawling space opera” impossible to follow, partly because it doesn’t emphasise the technobabble.

(Their words, not mine)

Three Seagrass is brought in to establish communication with a new alien species who appear to pose a threat to the Teixcalaani Empire, and she in turn brings in Ambassador Mahit Dzmare to help. There is intrigue at court and among the military factions, as the loving relationship between the two protagonists develops and the aliens connect more deeply. The judges found it “beautifully crafted”.

And our final returnee to our shortlist is for Aliya Whiteley, last shortlisted for The Loosening Skin, and back with Skyward Inn. This is science fiction’s answer to Jamaica Inn, but I’ll have to get back to you about what the question is. This is a platonic love story of the human Jem and the alien Isley, who run a pub in an anti-technological enclave in Devon. Earth has previously encountered Isley’s species, the Qitans, who more or less surrendered at once to humanity. Now the peace is going to be shattered by a virus, and the appearance of an illegal alien. The judges said it was “a meditation on love.”

Watching them come and go

The poets and the scientists

Veterans and the debutantes

Standing on the shelf and screen

It’s great to see authors that previous judges had recognised coming back, but what of the newcomers?

Harry Josephine Giles’s Deep Wheel Orcadia is new territory for us, a novel in the form of a poem or a poem in the form of a novel, in fact two poems or a poem and its translation. It’s a book which the judges said transported them to elsewhere, an epic in glimpses, with a sense of fragmentary history. It has shades of Anglo-Saxon poetry and Norse sagas, where what the judges see as its representation of “the disorientation and desolation of deep space” standing in for seas and oceans. Primarily, it is written in Orkney Scots, with an underlying but complex not-quite translation into standard English.

Courttia Newland’s A River Called Time was years in the making, a contemporary dystopia in a universe where Europe has not colonised Africa. The central character, Markriss Denny, aspires to join an Ark of the privileged in what we know as London, taking with him a developing talent for astral projection which might save him and destroy this society, or might lead to something more sinister. One judge “loved the astral projection” and all declared that it was packed full of ideas.

Finally, Mercurio D. Rivera’s Wergen: The Alien Love War brings together stories published in various venues, with a deep dive into the future of humans and the alien Wergen. The Wergen are sexually attracted to humans, apparently against their will, and this makes for both uneasy relationships and abuses of trust from taking advantage of the alien. Sooner or later, the Wergen will revolt. There’s a fascinating biology on display and the judges reached for comparisons with Octavia E. Butler to think through its depictions of interspecies relationships. The arc of the overall narrative works really well and there is a complex relationship between the chapters.

You read til the break of dawn

(Believing the weirdest things, loving the alien)

And you’ll believe you’re loving the alien

(Believing the weirdest things, loving the alien)

Thank you, and thank you again to the judges. Thank you

Yes Way (Maybe Way)

Eternals (Chloé Zhao, 2021)
Spider-Man: No Way Home (Jon Watts, 2021)
The Eyes of Tammy Bakker (Michael Showalter, 2021)

I’ve general felt the non-central Marvel adaptations were the best – or I liked a couple of the previous Spider-Man movies and the first Guardians of the Galaxy – but my patience in running short.

Eternals – which should be called Eternity – features a bunch of protecting the Earth superheroes who we haven’t previously been told about and some big bads which haven’t gone extinct after all. There’s some nice local colour of Camden Lock and they seem to have confused the Natural History Museum with the British Museum is Bleeding Obvious Sequel Easter Egg. One of the Eternals might be a baddy or not. You might even care. There’s some nice diversity, but I’d rather see Nomadland again.

Meanwhile, the third in a franchise often features the hero as the enemy – Superman vs. his Doppelganger and so on – but this Spider-Man goes the Three Doctors route. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has been framed for murder and mayhem and decides that Dr Strange (Bongodrums Candypatch) can cast a spell to make every one forget his secret identity, so he can get into college. The spell goes wrong and ends up summoning Alfred Molina from career doldrums from a different universe. Then other big bads and then Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) show up. There’s a neat in-joke about Spider-Maguire’s bad back and he’s the last to done the suit – I thought he might have refused to wear it – and Garfield is as interesting as he always is. The moral and parable is as pointed as the rest of the re-reboot series and you can’t help but feel the whole film is a trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Garfield is much better, however, in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, although it feels as if Jim Carey has been cast as Prior Walter. By coincidence, an episode of Jon Ronson’s Things Fall Apart featured an episode with Steven Pieters, a gay minister living with HIV, whom Tammy Faye had featured on one of her televangelism shows and who is portrayed her, possibly a little anachronistically in the rise and fall of two of the most significant television preachers. Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) is a bundle of energy, seemingly always performing, wanting to spread the Word and sceptical of the patriarchal and homophobic philosophy of the flavours of Christianity around her, whilst being quite happy to embrace the trappings of wealth. These trappings are fraudulently taken – and the film is never quite clear how much she knows this. It plays her religion straight, although it might have been a reason to be accepted. Chastain is in every scene, if not every shot, and it is an Oscar worthy performance. We can’t quite follow through a suspicion that her husband is a closeted gay, but we do get to see that other preachers are using the Bakkers’ fall for their own ends. At times, it feels as if it could have been another GoodFellas, but Scorsese would have fetishized the period detail.

26 February 2022: Research Seminar

The School of Creative Arts and Industries at Canterbury Christ Church University warmly invites you to attend this research seminar led by Dr Andrew Butler. 

The session will be delivered in Ng07 on Wednesday 23 February at 12.30pm, and can also be joined online by clicking on the following link:

‘Why Don’t You Go Home?’: The Folk Horror Revival in Contemporary Cornish Gothic Films 

The Folk Horror subgenre, focused on tensions between incomers and residents and modernity and tradition, has been revived in recent years, especially with Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. This paper will discuss Bait (Mark Jenkin, 2019) and Make Up (Claire Oakley, 2020), both set in Cornwall – the former focusing on the tensions around Down From Londoners and the fishing community, the latter on a young woman visiting a holiday camp to be with her boyfriend. Like much Folk Horror, they push at the boundaries of genre, with differing attitudes to the incomers and the horror is more implicit than explicit, but Oakley seems to be drawing on the Rebecca paradigm of Daphne Du Maurier. Jenkin is moving into clearer Folk Horror territory with the forthcoming Enys Men

Flees Free

Flugt (Flee, Jonas Poher Rasmussen, 2021)

Whilst animation tends to make us think of Disney, there’s a whole world of adult animation such as Persepholis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, 2007) and Waltz with Bashir (Aru Folman, 2008) from the documentary genre. Flee is an autobiographical account of “Amin Nawabi” confessing his life history to a friend (presumably Poher Ramussen) in Denmark and New York.

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Almost the Whole Hogg

Unrelated (Joanna Hogg, 2007)
Exhibition (Joanna Hogg, 2013)
The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg, 2021)

It’s pretty rare for low budget independent movies to have sequels – Hogg’s The Souvenir is a rare exception.

Meanwhile, not being aware that it was getting an imminent release, I went back to earlier films.

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They Were Not Divided

Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness (1928)
Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt/Carol (1952)

So, it turns out I bought these books on the same day, in April 2000, in High Wycombe I assume, and chose the last couple of days of 2021 to finally read them. Both are, for better or worse, foundational lesbian novels.

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The Art of Sex

Sequin in a Blue Room (Samuel Van Grinsven, 2019)
Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (John Maybury, 1998)
Jumbo (Zoé Wittock, 2020)
Postcards from London (Steve McLean, 2018)
Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau (Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo, Theo and Hugo, Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, 2016)

I think three of these films were distributed by Peccadillo Pictures, a distributor of gay-themed films of varying quality. These were at the better end of the scale, beginning with Sequin, the story of sixteen-year-old Sequin’s (Conor Leach) conflicting search for anonymous sex with older men and for the attractive man he met at the orgy at the private and mysterious The Blue Room. Unfortunately, one of his hook-ups is with B (Ed Wightman), who wants more than a one-night stand. The narrative mutates into something closer to thriller, but feels a bit disjointed. Unlike Théo & Hugo, there doesn’t seem to be any concern about HIV.

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Anyone for Denis?

Un 32nd Août sur terre ((August 32nd on Earth), Denis Villeneuve, 1998)

Maelström (Denis Villeneuve, 2000)

Polytechnique (Denis Villeneuve, 2009)

Incendies ((Fires) Denis Villeneuve, 2010)

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)

Québécois director Villeneuve has had a run of big budget sf blockbusters – Arrival (2016), Blade Runner (2017) and Dune Part One (2021) – of variable box office success and various level of my own disdain. Arrival seems to be scuppered by Sapir-Whorf nonsense, whereas the other two were unnecessary. Whilst Amy Adams is strong in Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 has less excuse for its misogyny than the original and a major female character in Dune doesn’t get to speak for the first three days of the running time. (Apparently she will be more prominent in Part Two.)

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Isn’t It Actually Fitzrovia?

Last Night in Soho (Edgar Wright, 2021)

Wright first came to prominence for me with the sitcom Spaced, working with Simon Pegg (and the fantastic Jessica Hynes/Stevenson), but I confess I’ve been a little less than methodical with his films. I largely enjoyed Scott Pilgrim vs the World and Baby Driver, although had issues with the blokeiness of both. I blinked when The Sparks Brothers was released and still can’t decide if he made it all up.

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Mentioned in Dispatches

The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun (Wes Anderson, 2021)

Anderson is a Marmite director and I confess to blowing a little hot and cold – I can’t help but admire the inventiveness and – like Jim Jarmusch and, formerly, Woody Allen, he gets a high octane cast. I just wonder if he doesn’t go too whimsical and self-indulgent.

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