‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE THE BSFA NOMINATION DEADLINE…

Okay, so, if I wanted this to be any use to anyone I’d have done it weeks ago, but I didn’t and there was always just one more book to try and squeeze in… And if I wanted this to be remotely interesting to anyone, I’d probably have written a long explanation as to why some of these books didn’t make my nominations – I have long and tedious explanations for the absence of both The Adjacent and Ancillary Justice from my nominations – but I didn’t have time.

The deadline for the British Science Fiction Awards nominations is tomorrow. If you can but haven’t nominated your favourites: DO IT NOW!

If anyone cares, here’s what I’ve nominated for the BSFA Awards this year:

BEST NOVELS

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
Evening’s Empires by Paul Macauley (Gollancz) (If I was picking just one book, it would probably be this one)
Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter (Jo Fletcher Books)
The Machine by James Smythe (Blue Door)
Martian Sands by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)
Dream London by Tony Ballantyne (Solaris)
Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux (Faber & Faber)
Osiris by EJ Swift (Del Ray)

SHORT STORY BSFA NOMINATIONS

The Angel At The Heart of the Rain by Aliette de Bodard (Interzone 246)
A Bridge of Words by Dinesh Rao (We See a Different Frontier, Futurefire)
The Curious Case of the Werewolf that Wasn’t, Mummy that Was And the Cat in the Jar by Gail Carriger (Undead, Pandemonium)
The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself by Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
The Gist by Michael Marshall Smith, Benoit Domis and Nicholas Royle (Subterranean Press)
The Jupiter Files by Jon Courtenay Grimwood (The Lowest Heaven, Pandemonium)
The Last Illusion by Damien Walters Grintalis (Interzone 245)
Meet The President by Zadie Smith (The New Yorker)
Old Domes by JY Yang (We See A Different Frontier, Futurefire)
Saga’s Children by EJ Swift (The Lowest Heaven, Pandemonium)
Spin by Nina Allan (TTA Press)
Stardust by Nina Allan (Stardust, PS Publishing)
Whatever Skin You Wear by Eugie Foster (Solaris Rising 2, Solaris)
With Fate Conspire  by Vandana Singh (Solaris Rising 2, Solaris)

ART
Cover of Kim Lakin-Smith’s Autodrome (Snowbooks)
The Angel At The Heart of the Rain by Richard Wagner (Interzone 246)
Cover of Astonishing X-Men 67 by Phil Noto (Marvel)
Cover of Captain Midnight 1  by Paolo Rivera  (Dark Horse)
The cover of Dream London by Joey HiFi (Solaris)
Cover of Hell to Pay by Tom Gauld (Angry Robot Books)
Fatale: Death Chases Me Book 1  by Sean Philips (Image)
Cover of Paprika (Vintage)

NON-FICTION

Afrofuturism by Ytasha L. Womack  (Lawrence Hill Books)
The Future of the Past  by Pawel Frelik (Parabolas of Science Fiction, Ed Attebery and Hollinger)
Parabolas of Science Fiction eds Atterbery & Hollinger (Wesleyan University Press)
Projecting Tomorrow eds James Chapman & Nicholas J. Cull   (I. B. Tauris)
Speculative Fiction 2012 eds Landon & Shurin  (Jurassic London)

So that’s the end of my BSFA nominations. The rest is probably of even less interest to anyone, but here’s some other thoughts on some of the things I’ve read this year.

2013 SF NOVELS THAT I’VE READ BUT HAVEN’T NOMINATED

2121 by Susan Greenfield
(The worst book I read this year)
Ack Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell
(Very entertaining)
The Adjacent by Christopher Priest
(Look, it’s a Priest novel so it’s very good. But I have a number of ideological problems with it, particularly the way it contrasts modern England and the past.)
Ancilliary Justice by Ann Leckie
(One third of this is brilliant, the other two-thirds is a bit of a let down with wild improbabilities and supposedly all-powerful, super-smart bad guys who behave like imbeciles)
Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell
(Fair adventure story. Silly politics)
The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
(Strange mix of sf and romance novel that doesn’t really work.)
The Curve of the Earth  by Simon Morden
The Curiosity  by Stephen Kiernan
The Eidolon by Libby McGugan
(Not bad, promising debut but slight)
The Explorer by James Smythe
(Smythe is a very good writer, I really admired The Machine, but this series – including the forthcoming The Echo – drive me to distraction with the silly mistakes)
God’s War by Kameron Hurley
(I don’t understand this book’s popularity, it’s a story driven by violence with supposedly experienced soldiers whose grasp of tactics doesn’t extend beyond standing in a line and shooting at each other.)
Gun Machine by Warren Ellis
(Less gonzo than his previous novel, Crooked Little Vein, and probably better for it.)
Life on the Preservation by Jack Skillingstead
(Review forthcoming in Vector. Not very good.)
The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian
(Didn’t get on with this at all.)
On The Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds
(Review forthcoming in Vector. I liked it but it’s the second book in a trilogy and suffers from slightly stodgy plotting but it made me feel very guilty for not nominating Blue Remembered Earth, which is a novel that gets better the more I think about it.)
Proxima by Stephen Baxter
(Also reviewing for Vector – a proper page-turning sf adventure.)
Red Light: First Light by Linda Nagata
(An interesting liberal modern take on mil-sf in which the real enemy are corporations. I’ll be reading the next book)
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
(I was disappointed with this – I don’t think it works particularly well as a novel and the message seemed, to me, to be a bit odd and unnecessarily forced.)
Terra by Mitch Benn
(Funny in parts but a bit cloying by the end.)
What Lot’s Wife Saw by Ionna Bourzopoulou
(If this had been written after the financial crises of 2008 it might have passed as an interesting statement on the destruction of southern Europe but it was first published in 2007. It all felt a bit fiddly and the further I get from the Keyser Soze ending, the less I like it. As a former crossword editor, the puzzle element bugged me too.)
When We Wake by Karen Healey
(Made almost no impression on me at all.)
The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar
(I enjoyed this but it didn’t feel like a particularly essential addition to the superhero canon – I’m not sure it does anything new – and the politics of it felt oddly restrained for Tidhar. I enjoyed the more energetic and angrier Martian Sands in which Tidhar channels his alternate persona as a Jewish Dick.)

BEST OF THE NEW NON-SF NOVELS I READ THIS YEAR

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
Konstantin by Tom Bullough
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (My favourite novel of the year of any kind. Touching, cleverly structured and reflecting post-crash realities.)
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

FAVOURITE SF SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS

Adam Robots by  Adam Robots
Everything You Need by Michael Marshal Smith
Microcosm by Nina Allan
The Peacock Cloak  by Chris Beckett
Stardust by Nina Allan
Tales from The Quiet War by Paul Macauley
The Woman Who Thought She Was A Planet by Vandana Singh

FAVOURITE SF ANTHOLOGIES

End of the Road (Solaris)
The Lowest Heaven (Pandemonium)
Solaris Rising 2 (Solaris – my story “The First Dance” is in this, so I’m probably biased)
We See A Different Frontier by Futurefire.net

SOME OF THE SF NOVELS THAT I DIDN’T GET TO READ THIS YEAR BUT THAT ARE STILL ON MY TO BE READ PILE…

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson
Love Minus Eighty  by Will McIntosh
iD by Madeline Ashby
The Golem and the Jinni  by Helen Wecker
The Prophet of Bones  by Ted Kosmatka
Nexus by Ramez Naam
Lives of Tao  by Wesley Chu

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4 Responses to ‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE THE BSFA NOMINATION DEADLINE…

  1. Niall says:

    “If this had been written after the financial crises of 2008 it might have passed as an interesting statement on the destruction of southern Europe but it was first published in 2007.”

    Could you unpack that a little bit? I can’t tell whether you mean “because this anticipated situation X it is not relevant to it” or “the set-up is perfect for commenting on situation X, so it’s a shame situation X hadn’t happened when the novel was written”, or something else.

  2. It’s more of the second. The idea of the flooding of the south and the picking over of its remains by a mysterious corporation has an obvious potential as the foundation of a critique of what has happened in post-crash Europe and, as I was reading the book, I kept expecting that critique to appear. But it never does. As I got deeper into the novel it becomes clear that what I at first thought was a perceptive metaphor turns out to be a coincidence whose apparent relevance owes more to luck (harsh?) than judgment. It’s actually quite a politically shallow novel and I found that deeply frustrating while reading it.

    Of course my expectations of the book might have been different if I’d known while I was reading it that it was first published in 2007 – I assumed it was a more recent book and therefore was expecting some sort of reflection of the current world – and it wasn’t until I finished that I looked up the details. And by then, I suppose, my estimation of the book had already been fatally holed.

    I’m sure you (someone) could argue that it’s not fair of me to judge the book by my expectations of what should be there rather than what the author actually provides, and that’s probably fair, but when I try to strip out that element I’m still left with a novel that didn’t really work for me though it is very well written. If I was being crude I’d describe it as a book in which horrible things happen – or don’t happening – to horrible people for the sake of improbable puzzle clues to set up a gimmick ending – but actually I liked it better than that, it’s very atmospheric and has some powerful moments- I just didn’t love it.

  3. Niall says:

    That makes sense, mostly; though I think it has more political intent than you’re allowing, just not with that specific event. One of the reasons I liked the book is because it seemed to resonate with different aspects of the world at different times — the flood invokes climate change at some points, 9/11 at others; the magic salt from the middle east invokes oil; the 75 invokes total corporatism; etc. I think the fact that it didn’t “commit”, for want of a better word, to one specific metaphor is a strength in this case. It felt like a fantastika response to the Western twenty-first century in general. Put another way, I agree it would almost certainly have been written differently in 2008, but I also don’t think it could have been written the same before, say, 2000.

  4. I can see all that, but I don’t think the novel does anything particularly interesting with these threads. I mean they’re there and they form the furniture of the the story but they’re not really explored. I think this is particularly true of the 75, which is an interesting idea and everyone spends all their time moaning about but which remains more-or-less unexplored beyond serving as a kind of shorthand for bad capitalism. It’s too oblique for me – I needed more meat – I’m all about the commitment 🙂