From the Other Side, April 2014
By Paul Kincaid
Easter in Britain is traditionally the time for the gathering of the clans, otherwise known as Eastercon. This year it was held in Glasgow, and despite the fact that the Worldcon is in the UK this year, generally resulting in a smaller than usual Eastercon, it was by all accounts both well attended and very successful.
Of course, this year it was all about awards. For a start, there was the ‘Not the Clarke Award’ panel, by now a fixture at Eastercons. If we are to believe the panellists, their choice for the award would be Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, though they expect that the actual jury will choose The Machine by James Smythe. Of course, if past experience is anything to go by, the fact that the panel mentioned these two books probably means that they’ll come nowhere near the prize.
Then there was the announcement of the BSFA Awards. Jeff VanderMeer’s win for Wonderbook is probably the closest thing to a shoo-in in these awards, though Joey Hi-Fi’s artwork has proved consistently popular, and Nina Allan’s Spin is not only a superb piece of work but also generated quite a buzz so the puzzle here is why, in the year of a British Worldcon, this didn’t make the Hugo list. The surprise, however, is that the award for Best Novel was shared by Ann Leckie for Ancillary Justice and Gareth L. Powell for Ack-Ack Macaque, the first time in the entire 45-year history of the award that there has been a tie in any category.
So far, so good, but it is an unwritten rule that wherever there are awards, there shall be controversy. And at Eastercon it came with the announcement of the Hugo Award shortlists. I’m not going to add to the millions of words already written on this (there’s a useful survey here, but be warned, it’s already getting on for the length of Wheel of Time), so I’ll just note the paucity of British nominees, which would be poor even for a year in which the Worldcon wasn’t staged in Britain. And I’ll also note something that nobody else seems to have mentioned, which is that for the second year running the Short Story slate is short. What this implies about the fragmentation of Hugo voting is not a good sign for the future of the awards. Judging from comments on Twitter, I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that the 1939 Retro Hugos feel more relevant this year.
Meanwhile, without any fuss, the shortlists for the David Gemmell Awards were announced. It seems that something like 17,000 nominations were received from all around the world, which rather overshadows the 1,300 nominations received in total for this year’s Hugo Awards.
Speaking of awards, it was good to see Karen Joy Fowler receiving the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for her marvellous novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, just in time for the release of the UK edition from Serpent’s Tail. Let’s hope it proves a boost for this beautifully written story of a girl brought up as the sister of a chimp.
The most eagerly awaited book of the month seems to have been Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor. Set in Lagos (the ‘lagoon’ of the title), it’s the story of three disaffected strangers and a visitor from beyond the stars in a race against time. Okorafor has already built up quite a loyal following, but this seems to be the book that might open up a much wider audience.
One book I really do want to check out is The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (Orbit), which seems to echo Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life in being about a character who lives his life over and over again. All through the pre-publicity for the book, the true identity of the author was supposed to be a jealously guarded secret, but the truth came out remarkably quickly once the book was in the shops: Claire North is a pseudonym of Catherine Webb, who also writes fantasy under the name Kate Griffin.
Curiosity of the month must be The Brick Moon, an 1869 story by American author Edward Everett Hale, which is perhaps the first story to imagine an artificial satellite. Now, to coincide with an exhibition on Stars to Satellites at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, until 30 September, Hale’s story has been reissued as an ebook by Jurassic London complete with introduction by astronomer Marek Kukula and Richard Dunn (Head of Science and Technology at Royal Museums, Greenwich), and, most intriguingly, with a new sequel, ‘Another Brick in the Moon’, by Adam Roberts.
However, as I so confidently predicted last month, the most significant publication has to be Call and Response by Paul Kincaid. It’s really good. You should buy it. Would I lie to you?
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.