[Editor’s Note: From the Other Side is Paul Kincaid’s monthly column on books and news from the other side of the Atlantic.]
From the Other Side, April 2016
By Paul Kincaid
This year will see the presentation of the 30th Arthur C. Clarke Award, so, for reasons that I am sure made sense when they were explained to me, everything is running late. The award ceremony isn’t until August, and the shortlist has only just been announced. The six books this year are:
- The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton)
- Europe at Midnight – Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)
- The Book of Phoenix – Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder & Stoughton)
- Arcadia – Iain Pears (Faber & Faber)
- Way Down Dark – J.P. Smythe (Hodder & Stoughton)
- Children of Time – Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor)
I confess, this isn’t the most inspiring shortlist I’ve seen. Of the four books I’ve read, only two seem to me to fully deserve a place on the shortlist. It is a list that seems more populist than challenging, designed to elicit more likes than arguments. Even so, it is head and shoulders above the decidedly insipid Hugo shortlist announced only the day before.
This time next year, when we’re looking at the 31st Clarke Award shortlist, I have a feeling that one of the books in contention will be Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood (NewCon). Only officially published at the beginning of the month, it’s a book that has already picked up a heck of a lot of advance praise (there’s a quote from Ursula K. Le Guin on the cover that most writers would kill for). It’s set in a world in which Nelson Mandela was never released from Robben Island and instead the extreme white supremacist party of Eugene Terreblanche has seized power. Wood builds up a picture of this repressed society through a wealth of subtle details: the way that whites cannot trust each other for fear that the slightest sympathy for the black population will bring them to the attention of the security services; the way that black teenagers have insouciantly learned to circumvent state censorship of the internet; the way that the white authorities have to keep applying ever more repressive measures just to maintain the status quo. Above all, when a technological marvel is smuggled out of South Africa, Chinese technicians are able to mass produce a smaller and better version of it within days. Time and again, Wood demonstrates that the maintenance of apartheid damages the whole of South Africa, white as well as black. The story concerns a white psychiatrist and a black student suffering PTSD after seeing a friend killed by the security services; the psychiatrist’s invention, designed to help with his treatment, proves to be a key that could unlock the whole apartheid regime, or, if it falls into the hands of the security services, it could screw the lid down even tighter. For a first novel, it’s remarkably assured, and it provides a perspective that most white, northern hemisphere sf has simply missed, which is why I confidently expect to see it turning up on at least some award shortlists next year.
Also out from NewCon this month is Splinters of Truth, a new collection of 15 short stories by Storm Constantine, four of them original to this volume. Then there’s The 1,000 Year Reich by Ian Watson, a new collection of 17 stories, three of which are original. Finally, to complete the trio of new collections that all came out from NewCon on the same day, there’s Disturbed Universes a first collection by David L. Clements, astrophysicist and occasional sf writer. This volume contains all of his published fiction to date, and includes two new stories. Of course, there are other publishers producing short story collections. This month, Gollancz brought out Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law by Joe Abercrombie, a collection of new and reprinted stories set in the landscape of his familiar fantasy sequence.
For a novel that may challenge Nick Wood when it comes to next year’s award shortlists, we may not need to look any further than The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan (Heinemann). Fagan got a lot of acclaim for her first novel, The Panopticon, and was included in Granta’s most recent Best Young British Writers list, and The Sunlight Pilgrims looks like another intriguing novel that engages with an sf idea. In this instance, it’s the end of the world; or at least that’s how it seems to the residents of a Scottish caravan park during a freak winter. There are bodies frozen in the streets, the economy is collapsing, and the country is falling apart, and as things get harsher, people try to carry on with their daily lives. Interestingly, Fagan’s second novel came out on the same day as her poetry collection, The Dead Queen of Bohemia (Polygon), which is described as a surrealistic journey through a life lived on the edge, which suggests that it is an ideal companion piece to her new novel.
One novel I missed last month also seems like an interesting merger of the literary and the fantastic. The Trees by Ali Shaw (Bloomsbury) tells of a world where suddenly, in a moment and without warning, trees burst through the concrete and everywhere, city or suburb, town or village, is instantly transformed into a forest.
Small press Jurassic London has announced that they will close in October after five years. Their last book will be a massive anthology, The Extinction Event, due to contain some two dozen stories, most of them new. The anthology will be out in late October, but on that date all other Jurassic London books will go out of print.
Finally, at a memorial celebration held at the Barbican Theatre to mark a year after the death of Terry Pratchett, it was revealed that his long-time personal assistant, Rob Wilkins, will be writing a biography of Sir Terry. It was also announced that there will be a six-part television series based on Good Omens that is being written by Pratchett’s collaborator on the novel, Neil Gaiman, while Pratchett’s daughter, Rhianna Pratchett, is writing a screen adaptation of The Wee Free Men, while a film of Mort is also in the works.
British sf critic Paul Kincaid is the author of the Hugo Award-nominated What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction and the BSFA Awards 2014-nominated Call And Response. He has won both the Thomas D. Clareson Award and the BSFA Non-Fiction Award.