Well, I nominated four of the five shortlisted novels for this year’s BSFA Award (and Kim Lakin-Smith’s Cyber Circus came close to getting a nod too) so I can’t complain about the shortlist.
Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith (Newcon Press)
Embassytown by China Mieville (Macmillan)
The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)
By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)
I was pleased to see Lavie Tidhar’s Osama on the list, I thought it was an outsider to make it on to the shortlist because I wasn’t sure how many BSFA members would have picked it up but it absolutely deserves the recognition. I’ve already reviewed Adam Roberts By Light Alone – a book that I thought was excellent but it was a review that took ages. I thought about reviewing Embassytown, The Islanders and Osama but they’re even more complex books than By Light Alone, there are lots of perceptive reviews of them out there and I’m not sure I’ve got anything to add except to say that I think all five books on the shortlist are worth your time. I’d back the Chris Priest for a win, but I wouldn’t begrudge any of the books an award.
If I had to pick one novel that I was disappointed did not get recognition, I would point to Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane, which I thought was an extraordinary book.
As for the short fiction shortlist:
The Silver Wind by Nina Allan (Interzone 233, TTA Press)
The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell (Asimov’s, July)
Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley (http://www.kameronhurley.com)
Covehithe by China Mieville (The Guardian)
Of Dawn by Al Robertson (Interzone 235, TTA Press)
Well, I only got two of those, the Nina Allan and the Paul Cornell, I like them both very much. I haven’t read the Kameron Hurley – though it is online and (of course) should be in the BSFA Shortlist booklet. I wasn’t at all taken with Kameron Hurley’s first novel, God’s War, I thought it was a bit of a plodding action book complete with a well-worn, down-at-heel protagonist, but there’s no denying it’s been a good year for her (two novels and strong critical support) so perhaps I’m an idiot. I’m surprised at the China Mieville and Al Robertson stories making it to the shortlist, I have to confess that neither made a strong impression on me at all when I read them. I’ll have to go back and have another look. I’d back Nina Allan for the win (but I think this will be a very close category) and encourage you to read the story in the context of her book (also called The Silver Wind from Eibonvale Press) as, while it is superb on its own, it gains several layers of context and meaning when surrounded by the stories that flesh out the full cycle of Allan’s bigger tale.
The best artwork list is a mystery to me:
Cover of Ian Whates’s The Noise Revealed by Dominic Harman (Solaris)
Cover and illustrations of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls by Jim Kay (Walker)
Cover of Lavie Tidhar’s Osama by Pedro Marques (PS Publishing)
Cover of Liz Williams’s A Glass of Shadow by Anne Sudworth (Newcon Press)
I like Dominic Harman’s artwork but The Noise Revealed cover felt a bit, well, generic. I actively dislike the cover of A Monster Calls, which I think is bland and utterly without atmosphere or menace, and Anne Sudworth’s cat in a field (the cover of Liz William’s A Glass of Shadow) has obvious technical prowess but it is just a cat in a field. It doesn’t do anything at all for me. I nominated the Pedro Marques cover of Osama and it seems to me that it is the outstanding piece of art on the shortlist.
And (almost) last, but by no means least, the non-fiction award:
Out of This World: Science Fiction but not as we Know it by M Ashley (British Library)
The SF Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition ed. J Clute, P Nicholls and D Langford (http://sf-encyclopedia.com)
Review of Arslan by M J Engh, A Nussbaum (Asking the Wrong Questions blog http://bit.ly/wChe50)
SF Mistressworks, ed. I Sales (http://sfmistressworks.wordpress.com)
Pornokitsch, ed. J Shurin and A Perry (http://www.pornokitsch.com)
The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the New Doctor Who (Foundation Studies in Science Fiction), ed. G Sleight, T Keen and S Bradshaw (Science Fiction Foundation)
I got two more on this list. I’m delighted for Ian Sales, whose SF Mistressworks was a fantastically positive response to the debate about gender and genre. I also think the Out of this World book is a fine achievement by Mike Ashley that stands independently from the British Library exhibition as an excellent history of the genre. Of the others, the only reason I didn’t nominate The SF Encyclopedia is because it is, technically, still in “beta” format and won’t be officially launched until next year. I think it is a marvellous achievement already but I hope this doesn’t confuse the voters. I have, but have not yet read, The Unsilent Library but the SFF produce good books and I expect to enjoy it. I’ve only recently discovered Pornokitsch, a fine blog that provides excellent reviews. I haven’t yet got around to reading the Abigail Nussbaum review, but it isn’t long so I will soon.
I think the SF Encyclopedia probably deserves to win, not least because it is a work of vast scale.
Finally there’s the special commendation for the British Library’s Out of this World exhibition. The exhibition wasn’t eligible for a non-fiction award nomination, despite significant support, but it was such a significant event, such a well curated exhibition, and such a fascinating experience that it surely deserved recognition. I’m pleased the BSFA committee made the decision to give the exhibition an extraordinary commendation.
So, that’s the lot.
I think all the lists (except maybe the best artwork) are very strong and the reaction online seems to be extremely positive. So well done to Donna Scott, the Award Administrator, and to all the BSFA members who displayed such sound critical faculties in their nominations.
I’m looking forward to finding out who wins at Eastercon.