From the Other Side, May 2014
By Paul Kincaid
So, with the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the annual awards circus comes to an end (at least until the Hugos in August) in the splendid surroundings of the Royal Society. Under the gaze of Thomas Hobbes and Earnest Rutherford and other worthies we were treated to an award ceremony that seems to be getting longer every year. This time, for instance, there was a nicely unsettling short film from Sci-Fi London’s competition to make a film in just 48 hours, followed by a reading from each of the shortlisted novels by one of the professional readers for Audible. Eventually, however, the envelope was opened by last year’s winner, Chris Beckett. And the winner was, perhaps inevitably, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, the novel that seems to be gathering just about every award going this year.
Just a week after the Clarke Award ceremony, I went along to the British Library to see their Comics Unmasked exhibition. I think Dave McKean, who designed the show, went overboard on the Anonymous figures with their Guy Fawkes masks who stood in crowds, watching at every turn in the exhibition. Yes, the exhibition does emphasise the political dimension of comics, but this was rather heavy handed. Nevertheless, what’s on display really is fascinating, from a medieval parable told just like a strip cartoon, to examples of erotic comic art, by way of super heroes, the Illustrated Police News, Andy Capp and a Gorillaz video. I recognised lots of comics from my own childhood, and there are plenty of more recent work by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Posy Simmons and others. The exhibition is on until 19th August, and it really is worth paying a visit.
And while we’re on the subject of the British Library, they have just launched an invaluable new resource, Discovering Literature. They have put treasures from their collection online, including original manuscripts, playbills, illustrations and first editions, accompanied by new essays, documentary films and lots more. Among the first authors covered by this resource are Lewis Carroll, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson and H.G. Wells, so there’s an extraordinary opportunity to revisit the very early days of British fantasy and science fiction.
Remember last month, when I talked about The Brick Moon by Edward Everett Hale? Well, the starting point for that rather peculiar novella was the original Longitude Prize, and I am sure it is pure coincidence that now a new Longitude Prize has been launched. The £10 million prize will be awarded for solving one of six challenges: how to fly without damaging the environment, how to ensure everyone on the planet has a healthy diet, how to prevent resistance to antibiotics, how to restore movement to people who are paralysed, how to provide safe clean water for everyone, and how to let people with dementia live independently for longer. All of which sound like they have been taken from the plots of science fiction stories, and I’m sure we could name several of those stories.
As for new books, the big one this month has to be Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (Heinemann), which he describes as his most personal yet. “The story is about geopolitics, the 24 hour news culture, comic books, drug smuggling and the search for justice. But underneath that it’s about being a dad, and about how we do anything for those we love. Stay with me. I truly believe it’s my best”.
A couple of new books this month come with interesting promotional devices. Paul Cornell has launched The Severed Streets (Tor UK), the sequel to his London fantasy police procedural, London Falling, by compiling a list of his top five most haunted London pubs, just the thing for a get-together during Worldcon. Meanwhile, to celebrate the release of Thief’s Magic (Orbit), the first book in her brand-new series, Trudi Canavan has designed a tablet or ereader cover featuring an illustration of two characters from the novel.
And, of course, this was the month that Authority, the second volume in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, came out from Fourth Estate, though you could hardly call this long awaited since it’s only three months since the first volume appeared. Still, for those of us caught up in this exploration of an extraordinary landscape, it means that we can return to the story before the previous part has started to fade from the memory.
British sf critic Paul Kincaid is the author of the Hugo Award-nominated What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction and a just-released collection of reviews, Call And Response (Beccon). He has won both the Thomas D. Clareson Award and the BSFA Non-Fiction Award.