As part of the Shadow Clarke project, each of the jurors were asked to write an introduction that laid out some of their thoughts about science fiction and how they perceived the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
Mine went live yesterday afternoon. You can read it on the Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy’s website but I’m also reprinting it here below the fold.
A couple of things that occurred to me upon re-reading the piece:
Firstly, I think it does a pretty good job of capturing how I currently feel about the institutions of genre culture. To be blunt, I don’t think that genre fandom survived the culture wars of 2015 and I think genre culture has now entered a post-apocalyptic phase in which a few institutional citadels manage to keep the lights on while the rest of the field is little more than a blasted wasteland full of isolated, lonely people. One reason why I agreed to get involved with shadowing the Clarke Award is that I see the Shadow Clarke as an opportunity to build something new that re-introduces the idea that engaging with literary science fiction can be about more than denouncing your former friends and providing under-supported writers with free PR.
Secondly, the piece toys with the idea of the genre origin story. While this is not a particularly novel concept, it is interesting to note that when genre culture does engage with how people first got into SF it’s through a range of narrow tropes such as helpful librarians and the discovery of the one book that changed everything. I think that our path into culture goes a long way to determining how we view said culture and I also think that there’s a lot more to genre origin stories than Heinlein juveniles and Lord of the Rings. While more recent episodes have tended to feature book discussions and interviews with authors, Jonah Sutton-Morse’s Cabbages and Kings podcast has interviewed quite a broad range of fans and found their genre origin stories to be as unique as they are fascinating.
Tom Hunter has just made public the list of books submitted to the judges of the annual Clarke Award. I don’t normally pay much attention to the list of submitted titles as genre awards only ever seem to come into critical focus once they reach the shortlist phase of their existence. This year will be different…
What is different is that I will be forming part of the first ever shadow jury for a genre award. Inspired by the shadow judges for the annual Booker prize, the idea is for a group of people to consider the list of submitted titles and – in parallel with the official judges – come up with their own shortlists and preferred winners. This initiative was the brainchild of the great Nina Allan (whose introductory remarks can be found here) and is backed by the Anglia Ruskin Centre for Research into Science Fiction and Fantasy under the directorship of Helen Marshall (whose own introductory remarks can be found here).
Inspired by last year’s – occasionally ill-tempered – debates surrounding both the direction of the Clarke Award and its continued ability to generate discussion, the Shadow Clarke project can be viewed as an attempt to strengthen and support genre culture’s critical hinterland before it is finally claimed by the sea. The point of the exercise is not so much to challenge or undermine the real jurors as to provide counterpoints and start discussions. The response from certain corners of genre culture has thus far been hyperbolic and ill-informed but what else should one expect from a website that reacted to the presence of right-wing extremists in genre spaces by driving vast amounts of internet traffic to their websites and helping them to raise funds for their organs of propaganda?
My fellow shadow jurors have already started to announce both their presence and their intentions:
- Nina Allan
- Vajra Chandrasekera
- Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Megan AM
- Victoria Hoyle
- Nick Hubble
- Paul Kincaid
- David Hebblethwaite
Those of us who haven’t yet made their intentions clear are probably just waiting on their personal introductions to go live on the CRSFF website like Vajra’s over here. Mine is lengthy, contentious and will be linked to when it appears…
The submissions having been released, the next step is for each of us to draw up a shortlist of books we’d like to see make the official shortlist and explain why we chose those particular books. This shortlist will then appear on the Anglia Ruskin website as will more detailed pieces about the books it contains as well as our justifications for their inclusion. The idea being that shadow jurors will expand the discussion beyond the confines of the official shortlist and explore the different ways in which one can make aesthetic judgements about contemporary science fiction. For my part, I have an axe and fully intend to grind it but you’ll have to wait a bit to see which books I have chosen to chop off for myself!
In the meantime, if you have feels about the submissions list then please feel free to join in by publishing your own shortlists (hashtags #shadowclarke and #sharke). Just remember, the point of the exercise is not necessarily to predict the official shortlist or even to do a better job than the official jurors but rather to start discussions by exploring the myriad ways in which we are all hopelessly wrong and deliciously right!
Interzone #268 is now a thing in the world. Anyone with an interest in getting hold of it can do so via the TTA Press website, Smashwords or any other purveyor of quality eBooks with a search function and an ounce of sense.
This month’s issue comes with a number of interesting-looking short stories:
- “Everyone gets a Happy Ending” by Julie C. Day
- “The Noise & The Silence” by Christien Gholson
- “The Transmuted Child” by Michael Reid
- “Weavers in the Cellar” by Mel Kassel
- “Freedom of Navigation” by Val Nolan
- “The Rhyme of Grievance” by T.R. Napper
As this was the last issue to go to bed before the end of 2016, the non-fiction includes the traditional Year’s Best ‘recommendation’ pieces by Interzone’s non-fiction writers.
Nina Allan‘s column allows her to express how difficult she finds it to write non-fiction and why she admires the ways in which the author Kai Ashante Wilson not only engages with the world through his fiction but also with his own emotional responses to that world.
Nick Lowe‘s column on film (as usual) looks at a number of recent releases but my mind was caught by his suggestion that Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival doesn’t work in part because film is less charitable to certain types of SFnal ideas than raw text. According to Lowe, Chang’s use of language and structure allow him to adopt a degree of obliquity relative to the silliness of his own ideas that allows them to pass when read in a story but to stick out a mile when encountered in the cinema.
The rest of the Booz Zone is made up of five extended reviews by Maureen Kincaid Speller, Jack Deighton, Shaun Green, and Duncan Lunan. I enjoyed all of the pieces thoroughly but was enchanted by Duncan’s decision to take issue with the technical and strategic details of Stephen Baxter’s recently-published sequel to War of the Worlds. When I first started writing about science fiction, it was quite common for reviewers to take issue with the factual and speculative elements of the books they had read but that approach appears to have rather fallen out of fashion. Nice to see it make a comeback!
This issue also contains an (unfortunately rather timely) column about Carl Neville’s debut novel Resolution Way. The novel is set in a near-future Britain where waves of austerity have left people desperate and ready to fuck each other over. What makes this piece timely (aside from the fact that many of its plot details could be pulled from the headlines) is that the novel was published by Repeater books, an imprint operated by a group of people including the great critic Mark Fisher, author of the much-sited Capitalist Realism who died earlier this week. Needless to say, my thoughts are with his family and friends.
You’ll be able to read my piece about Resolution Way either by buying the magazine or waiting about 6 months for it to be reprinted here. In the meantime, below the fold is what turns out to have been a somewhat controversial piece about Becky Chambers’ much-hyped and widely-praised debut The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.
My first review of the year is of a film that is as intriguing as it is flawed and problematic. First released in 1992, Regis Wargnier’s Indochine can only be described as a piece of post-colonial Oscar-bait.
The “post-colonial” bit refers to the fact that Wargnier’s film followed the example set by David Lean’s A Passage to India and used France’s colonial history as an excuse to make a beautiful and nostalgic film about an exotic foreign land. Wargnier’s producers knew full well that nostalgic prestige productions tend to do disproportionately well at the Oscars and so Indochine was always a cynical exercise in bringing home the gold. Hence the term “post-colonial Oscarbait”.
However, while the idea of white people from former colonial powers making films about former colonies is always going to be problematic, I think that Indochine deserve some credit for not only siding with the oppressed but also presenting colonialism as a system that was both monstrous and politically unsustainable. My FilmJuice piece about the film can be found here:
Indochine is a beautifully made and well-performed film that handles a difficult subject in both a progressive and sympathetic manner. However, while the film’s production values and ambitions may scream quality, there is no escaping the fact that this was a film about colonialism made by white people for the consumption of other white people. The writers and director do try their best to get beyond this limitation but the decision to use the Vietnamese characters thematically rather than narratively means that the film retains a cool, detached, and ultimately frustrating viewpoint that denies its subjects agency when it should be seeking to understand their actions.
Re-reading my review, it strikes me that Indochine exemplifies many of the problems presented by cultural appropriation. Though many of the film’s narrative problems do stem from a decision to focus on the white characters rather than the Vietnamese characters, having a bunch of French people tell a story about Vietnamese people struggling to defeat French colonialism would arguably have been just as bad.
The New Year has imposed itself as such things are prone to do… The movement from one calendar year to another may be abstract and arbitrary but our lives are shaped by institutions and institutions exist to make the arbitrary and abstract appear concrete and unavoidable.
Like most cultural scenes, the world of literary science fiction is shaped by its institutions. Genre institutions can do any number of things but they are most evident when they are publicising, administering, and awarding prizes for what the charitably-inclined might refer to as ‘cultural excellence’. A year in genre culture is a year in genre awards and a year in genre awards is a year spent actively campaigning for what little validation can be extracted from a cultural space where the provision of content massively outstrips the desire to engage with said content.
What this means in practice is that every year begins with an ungainly scramble for visibility as hundreds of aspiring authors try to get out their personal votes. These visibility campaigns may start on a bashful and self-deprecating note but the pitch soon rises, growing steadily more grasping and unpleasant until finally reaching the level of demented screaming in the run-up to the annual distribution of fish heads known as the Hugo Awards, at which point the voices collapse either into silence or disgruntled muttering before beginning afresh the following December.
The cycle begins in earnest with the opening of the Hugo nominations period but the year’s first tangible chunk of ego-boo is usually the shortlist for the awards handed out by the British Science Fiction Association. For reasons that doubtless made sense to someone at the time, the process for generating BSFA award shortlists has now changed meaning that people are now expected to nominate for a longlist as well as a shortlist. My piece on the history of the New Weird has made it onto the non-fiction longlist and while I am grateful to everyone who took the time to nominate my piece, I would be even more grateful if it progressed no further as I have decided to decline any and all future award nominations.