Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Summary: 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist

Congratulations to Lauren Beukes's Zoo City for winning the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award!

I've finished reading the six shortlisted novels for the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke award, and I wanted to give a general summary of my thoughts before the winner is announced tomorrow.  For the convenience of anyone reading this, I'll edit this to indicate which novel won, once the announcement is made.

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is presented to the best science fiction novel published in the UK in the previous year, as decided by a panel of judges.  Based on the current selections, it seems that they're allowing the definition of SF to lean towards fantasy a little.  I certainly don't mind, since the shortlisted novels this year were all fantastic books worthy of the recognition. Rather than listing them from most favorite to least, I will tell which I think is most deserving of the prize, give the two that I would pick as runners-up, and then give general thoughts on the other three.

My Predicted Winner

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes - This was an amazing novel.  The style was refreshingly original, and the characters and locations were vividly painted.  It drew me in on the first page, and the fast-paced, exciting plot kept me enthralled through the end.  If I were on the panel of judges, Zoo City would get my vote. 

Other Frontrunners

Declare by Tim Powers - I thoroughly enjoyed this alternate history WWII/Cold War spy and dark fantasy novel.  The period detail was meticulous, and the supernatural elements were incredibly eerie.  I also thought the method was really intriguing; Powers kept all real, recorded history constant, and created his story in the 'gaps', crafting it to explain odd historic facts.  I'm not really a connoisseur of spy novels, so I was surprised at how entertaining I found Declare.

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald - This novel envisioned a future Istanbul full of mysteries and nanotechnology.  It ambitiously followed many different characters with many different stories over a crucial five day period in all of their lives.  The main connection between them was their association to the eponymous dervish house.  It was fun watching the different stories affect each other in direct and indirect ways, though they did not quite mesh as much as I would have preferred in the end.

Other Nominees

Richard Powers' Generosity took a lot of impressive narrative risks, but it's meta-fictional narration made me feel distanced and detached from the story.  Tricia Sullivan's Lightborn contained some very interesting uses of language, and the story ended up being creative and surprising.  However, it did take a while to really get going.  Patrick Ness's Monsters of Men, is the final book of a YA trilogy, and I don't think one could appreciate it without reading the first two.  It was a fast-paced, action-packed story, with loads of moral ambiguity. Somehow, though, I tended to side with the alien Spackle over the humans.


  1. LOL, I also predicted that "Zoo City" will win. Apart from being an absolutely stunning novel, I do have a South African bias, of course - AND did an interview with Lauren Beukes over at WWEnd. I haven't read "Dervish" yet, but it does seem to be a worthy winner, considering its recent Hugo nomination as well. I think McDonald is a much underrated author and I hold his literary narrative in high regards. "Brasyl" was thoroughly enjoyable. I'm buying "Desolation Road," "River of Gods" and "Dervish" during my next splash.

    Perhaps scant consolation: Joey HiFi won the BFSA for the cover art of "Zoo City" (Angry Robot edition), and Ms Beukes got a Campbell nomination for best new author (even though this is not a Hugo award). I was certain "Zoo City" would make the Hugo ballot, but sadly didn't. Some of the usual suspects did make it, though - not that I dislike Bujold and Willis. A reading of all the Hugo nominations will make for an interesting next project. "Feed" seems particularly interesting (Heavens, I'm still playing catchup with both the Nebula and BFSA!)

  2. I agree that "Zoo City" was stunning, and I was also a little disappointed to see that it didn't make the Hugo ballot. I'm finally reading "Moxyland", now, so I'm about caught up on Lauren Beukes' fiction! "Dervish" was actually my first McDonald novel. I've heard several people mention "Brasyl" as a terrific novel, so that might be the next of his that I pick up.

    I am planning on reading the Hugo nominations for my next project! It'll be a bit easier, since I've read two of them already (though I read 100k Kingdoms before starting this blog). I just recently finished "Doomsday Book", so I think I'll put off the newest Willis' time travel novels till last. I enjoy Willis, but another 1200 pages or so of time travel might be a bit much right now. I'm also considering how much of the Vorkosigan Saga I ought to read before "Cryoburn". I've read and enjoyed Bujold's fantasy series, but haven't gotten around to her SF yet.

  3. Of course, I confused the BFSA with the Clarke. And "Zoo City" did win the later!

    I enjoy the Vorkosigan Saga. Whether or not the books from the series that won the Hugo's deserve to, is an open debate. But there is something appealing about a hero with "mutant" defects, a kind of crippel - not your ordinary protagonist. The latter part of the series featured a little too much romance for my liking, but does make up for it with some pretty decent character building. I think you'll enjoy it too, for the action, mystery and the wonderful setting - I found "Mirror Dance" to be the best literary work of the series, and "Komarr" the most enjoyable. "A Civil Campaign" is arguably the best overall in the series. I must still get onto "Diplomatic Immunity" and, of course, "Cryoburn."

    "Doomsday Book" was quite a tragedy in its dreadful scope. I've only read "To Say Nothing Of The Dog" as another Willis novel, and failed at finishing "Passage" - it was just too much of a trudge. I'm keen to read "Blackout/All Clear", but judging from the reviews complaining about the unnecessarily long-winded backstory, I'm somewhat reticent - unless, of course, it wins :)

    I found "Moxyland" to be quite a romp. I truly enjoyed it, but do think "Zoo City" is the more superior read.

  4. Thanks for the recommendations on the Vorkosigan Saga, I will look forward to the ones you mention! I think I'll try to read them in in-universe chronological order, but I'll probably break down and read "Cryoburn" at some point before I finish them all.