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The Arthur C. Clarke Award Shadow Jury (and my part in it)

February 14, 2017

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:

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!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    February 15, 2017 8:29 pm

    It’s pretty disappointing to see you using your position in the shadow jury to grind your axe for a pre-existing grudge.

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  2. February 15, 2017 10:12 pm

    Having an issue with websites that amplify the voices of fascists and help them fund-raise is not a grudge.

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  3. Mark permalink
    February 16, 2017 12:47 pm

    Well, if you don’t want to call a spade a spade then I won’t argue with you about terminology. Whatever you wish to call it, I was questioning its relevance to the shadow jury role.
    However, I see from your intro on the Shadow Clarke site that you see the entirety of genre fandom as a valid target for criticism while judging so I guess I’m not going to persuade you on this point.

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  4. February 16, 2017 1:13 pm

    I am participating in a project.

    I used my blog to link to said project and address some of the things that are being said about it. I fail to see any conceivable problem with this.

    Conversely, I do have a problem with websites that legitimise fascism in genre spaces by driving traffic to fascist websites. I also have a problem with websites that help to raise funds for organs of fascist propaganda.

    If you think that being critical of genre institutions while discussing books is unacceptable but signal-boosting fascists isn’t then I suggest you have a think about your ethical choices and the company you choose to keep.

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  5. Mark permalink
    February 16, 2017 8:11 pm

    To be a bit clearer then: I was not questioning your addressing of critical comments about the Shadow Clarke, which seems to me like perfectly legitimate comment in both directions. I was pointing at the way you then moved on to repeat your previous criticisms of things said and done on an unrelated topic, at a different time, and in fact by a totally different person to those who made the comments about the Shadow Clarke. In short, you used your chance to address the Shadow Clarke audience to pursue an unrelated pre-existing complaint.

    I didn’t intend to argue the substantive point here, but as you’re now criticising my ethics I feel I can address it. I do not agree with your stance that holding up people to public scorn and mockery was signal-boosting. I certainly accept that no-platforming can be the best tactic in many circumstances, but in this case the platform was already there and in fact they were stood upon it brandishing their Hugo nominations, and only the strong reaction of fandom stopped them from converting those into even wins and even more publicity and fund-raising. Your proposed tactic in this case boils down to letting them get what they wanted, while the approach of getting the word out about what had happened appears to have been successful in mitigating the damage.

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  6. February 16, 2017 8:20 pm

    ‘Mitigating the damage’ resulted in a bunch of No Awards and genre’s cultural spaces being turned into a radioactive wasteland. The F770 tactic encouraged everyone to grandstand and ramp up the rhetoric, pouring vast amounts of accelerant on a fire that was already creeping up the curtains.

    You don’t fight nazis with witless snark, they don’t care. You fight nazis by preventing them from organising and legitimising their presence in your cultural spaces. F770 did the exact opposite of that.

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  7. Mark permalink
    February 16, 2017 10:28 pm

    I guess I should have anticipated that adding a second strand would allow you to move away from the first one. I imagine you don’t want to be pressed on it.

    However, I think you’ve got a logical gap in your argument about the Hugos. The choice wasn’t between No Award and everything being fixed somehow, the choice was between No Award and John C Wright winning multiple Hugos in the name of the publisher you’re concerned about not allowing publicity to. To stretch your metaphor further than it perhaps can take, the fire was already going, and doing nothing would simply have left it to burn the house down. You’ve not presented a credible alternative plan. In fact, despite having blogged your complaints about the Hugos here in the past, I can’t find that you seriously addressed the issue here throughout the whole Puppy period.

    I have to call in reinforcements on the question of mocking fascists – George Orwell said that willingness to laugh at the goose-step was what kept it away. I fail to see how anyone was to prevent them from organising on the internet – you can’t exactly do a sit-in on a website. As for legitimising – again, you’ve got a logical gap. They already had a path to seize legitimacy, via nominations for a prestigious award reported in the media and stickered on the front of books. The question was whether they converted those nominations into even-more-legitimising wins. Looking back we can see that what happened was lots of publicity (and yes, rhetoric, calls to arms, etc) about the danger of what might happen next and the unpleasant political and cultural motivations of the slaters, and the net result of that was that the danger of them getting legitimising wins was averted while their opinions got roundly rejected. Yes, their views got aired a lot more than if everyone had ignored them, but in the final analysis that was a lot less publicity and legitimacy than e.g. John C Wright getting interviewed in the Guardian as a record-breaking Hugo winner, with gloating quotes from VD.

    I don’t intend to go ten rounds with you on this, so I’ll leave you the final word, but I strongly urge you to consider whether “do nothing” would have achieved what you wanted given the starting point that had already been reached.

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  8. February 16, 2017 11:19 pm

    What strand? You seem to think that there’s something off about being a shadow juror and being critical of a website that responds to the idea of a shadow jury with uninformed and hyperbolic hostility. Despite the fact that said website continues to do real harm to genre discourse. I see no conflict, no tension, no problem.

    I didn’t have anything to contribute to the Hugo awards in 2015 and I have nothing to contribute to them now.

    I don’t accept your assertion that political disagreements require detailed plans for alternative courses of action but even if I did… Why does F770 continue to link to puppies now? Why did Glyer link to VD’s fund-raising initiative after the 2015 wave had broken?

    Step 1: Link to VD’s fund-raising initiatives.
    Step 2:???
    Step3: Prevent John C. Wright being interviewed in tge Guardian.

    That’s not just a ‘logic gap’ that’s a credibility gap.

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  9. Gabriel permalink
    February 17, 2017 11:46 am

    Hi Jonathan!

    While I’m politically radical, aesthetically I suppose I run the gamut; I appreciate formal experimentation and art that challenges but, if pressed, I’m forced to admit that the best New-Media SF (film, television, video games) are, well, worse SF than the best SF novels, and that, for a range of reasons (cost of entry, financial gatekeepers, constraints of form among others) New Media are inherently inferior art forms (or, if you prefer, I think that there are qualities inherent in New Media hostile to many of the things I value in SF writing and, indeed, other types of art).

    I love Evangelion. It’s guff, preposterous half-formed ideas painted in a smear over pre-pubescent hot chicks in onesies and robot battles.

    I suspect, here, we very much disagree. But even though we disagree, I wanted to send a word of support, and tell you that I enjoy your writing, even when we disagree, and find it valuable, especially when we disagree. You state your opinions clearly, give reasons, and make pointed observations, all without engaging in the mealy-mouthed Tu Quo Ques that are often the hallmark of modern critically (and conservative) culture. The Shadow Clarke stuff looks interesting and fun. Thanks to you and the others for doing it.

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  10. February 18, 2017 8:22 am

    Hi Gabriel :-)

    Thanks for the supportive words but we definitely disagree on new media vs lit SF :-)

    One concrete example is attitudes to genre boundaries: In the early 00s, SFF was falling over itself with excitement at the idea of genre-blending but what they didn’t realise was that a lot of the ideas that went into genre-blending came from new media stuff like games and TV series. It’s difficult to get excited about Perdido Street Station when you remember Thundarr the Barbarian or those old AD&D modules where your fantasy adventuring party happen upon a crashed UFO.

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  11. February 18, 2017 8:59 am

    Mark is a regular on File770 – I recognise the name. I’ve had a few run-ins with the site myself. My view is that Mike trolls his own commentators. I’ve hosted numerous story reviews, original interviews and researched articles on my own blog (www.futureslesstravelled.com), but the only times Mike linked (not recently) was when I was engaged in provocative discussion about the Hugos. Hence, it’s no surprise that he routinely links to Vox Day…

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