From the Other Side: March 2014
By Paul Kincaid
Why is it that every time I go to a science fiction party it turns out to be in a cellar bar with a low ceiling and loud music, so I spend all of my time trying to make out what the person I’m talking to has actually said? That’s exactly what happened at the party to announce the shortlist for this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award. So I think I heard Ian Waites of NewCon Press tell me that the collection of non-fiction by Adam Roberts, for which I have written the introduction, will be one of four titles he is launching at Loncon 3. Or it could be one of three titles he is launching at Eastercon next month. Or he could have been saying something else entirely.
At least the music was turned off for the announcements. The evening began with a series of people announcing science fiction events happening in the UK over the course of the year. The Worldcon is, of course, the big event, but we were told about an awful lot of other things happening around that. The SciFi London Film Festival is bigger than ever, with a challenge to make an sf film in two days. And the BFI (British Film Institute) is planning a major season of science fiction film later in the year.
As for the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, that seems to have been far better received than either of the last couple of years. As always, no-one was able to predict the list, even if it was less eccentric than some have been. There was some surprise at the inclusion of the Philip Mann and Ramez Naam, and maybe a little muttering at the omission of Paul McAuley’s Evening’s Empires and Marcel Theroux’s Strange Bodies (both of which strike me as being eminently Clarke-worthy novels), but in general it’s a strong list. As for the eventual winner (due to be announced at the beginning of May), I have a sense it could be between the Ann Leckie and the Christopher Priest; but Clarke Award juries have a long tradition of blindsiding us all.
One final note, while we’re on the subject of awards: the deadline for Hugo Award nominations is 31st March, so if you want to see your favourites on the ballot, it’s time to act.
As for the new books of the month, the most pleasing is probably The Islands of Chaldea from HarperCollins. It was left unfinished by Diana Wynne Jones when she died in 2011, but now it has been completed by her sister, Ursula Jones, and for anyone who has read anything by Diana Wynne Jones the chance to read just one more magical novel has to be recommendation enough. It has all the hallmarks of her best work, the invention, the humour, the warmth and the wisdom, so I probably don’t need to add that it’s the story of a girl whose magical powers refuse to come, until she has to take part in a seemingly impossible expedition. But really: it’s Diana Wynne Jones, nothing else needs to be said.
The biggest book of the month has to be Descent by Ken MacLeod (Orbit). Like his previous novel, the Clarke-shortlisted Intrusion, it’s a near-future political novel about the intrusion of shadowy authority figures into ordinary life. This time it starts with what seems to be an encounter with a UFO, but it soon becomes more about issues of belief and control. It has to be said that I don’t think this is anywhere near as good as Intrusion, but as is typical of Ken MacLeod it is a gripping story that forces you to think about some very complex issues.
And something of an oddity. Unless I am very much mistaken, to date none of Nick Mamatas’s books have received British publication; certainly, I’ve only ever seen them from American imprints. But now, PS Publishing has brought out The Last Weekend, and so far as I can see there is no American edition. It’s a novel that starts with a zombie apocalypse, then throws in all sorts of conspiracies, as the blurb says: ‘sparing no cliché about tortured artists, alcoholic ‘genius’, noir action heroes, survivalist dogma, or starry-eyed California dreaming’. It’ll be interesting to see how the UK responds to this full-on assault of bleak comedy.
While I’m on the subject of books, I suppose I should mention that my own new collection of reviews, Call And Response (Beccon), will be available by Easter. There’s a chance I may mention this again next month.
British sf critic Paul Kincaid is the author of What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction. He has won both the Thomas D. Clareson Award and the BSFA Non-Fiction Award. A new collection of reviews, Call And Response (Beccon) will be available by Easter. [Editor’s note: This happens to be the 200th blog post at bullspec.com. Happy it has Paul, Nick, and Diana Wynne Jones in it.]