The Shadow Clarke project is going strong, and the shortlists are rolling in. Here’s mine, which posted last week:
I did not expect to feel as comfortable with this list as I do. I wanted my list to represent the best of science fiction–what it should be trying to do– and many will say I have failed, but what most strikes me as I look at this list and read through the books is how much it represents who I am as a reader and a person. Incredibly biased and irrelevant and perhaps off-Sharke-message, sure, but there you go. I didn’t mean to. My list has been called ‘incoherent’ a couple of times in comments, which, in context, I don’t think was intended as criticism or insult, but, the truth is, I have never felt so coherent about a set of books I’ve put together. This list feels elegant to me.
For reasons of the shadowing, I’ll be holding off my monthly reading reviews until this project is over. (I have a feeling I’ll be jonesing for older stuff by then. Batting around the idea of a Harrison month in the autumn, maybe?)
The process, so far
The most uncomfortable part of this experience, so far, has been the judging and dismissing of submissions books based on a few pages or chapters of reading. It’s not my usual M.O., as I’ve only ditched three books in the time of this blog (hiya, Time Enough for Love, The Computer Connection, and Warrior’s Apprentice…okay, go away now), and it feels so very wrong to me. Some of my favorite novels never started as my favorites. Sometimes a book doesn’t become itself until the very end.
That said, once I started the process of read-and-dismiss, it was very easy to do! (And I still ended up with too many good choices. There are actually writers out there who are not just wedging movie scripts into book jackets. It’s amazing!)
As I said at the CSFF Anglia site, I am mostly looking for books that do more than one thing. As an ordinary reader who has read a lot of the same things from different decades, I am always on the lookout for novels that aren’t just about plot, and that aren’t just refurbishing something I’ve already read or seen.
Addressing status quo defensiveness that may or may not exist
The way I see it, the Shadow Clarke is not an attack on the Clarke award. Not that anyone is saying that, but I’ve picked up on a creepy air of defensiveness about it in some places.
This is an opportunity to play out publicly what happens in secret. It’s providing transparent dialogue to a process that, for legislated reasons, can’t be transparent.
A side effect of this: it’s also dragging into the light very good novels that will inevitably be ignored in all arenas, simply for not being marketed a certain way or being from certain publishers. The good novels might even be recognized by the jury behind closed doors, but we never get to see them because so many people believe a shortlist should be a record of current pop history (rather than a promise of what’s to come, as I think shortlists should). Therefore, these other, possibly misclassified good books go on ignored.
Thus they go, treading water. The genre that claims innovation resists change. How conservative. Most people, fans included–fans especially–only read what’s put in front of them. It’s naïve to think only the best books magically rise to the top; someone puts them there.
Of course, I’m excited about this project. As a reader who is genuinely in love with the potential that only SF can provide, the system as it stands has let me down. I have to dig to find stuff. I don’t think my reading preferences are all that unusual when I see writers like Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez and Han Kang held up as gold standards in other literary discourse. People crave the strange and well-written. (“But that’s not sci-fi, Megan!” GTFOOMH.) (I like sci-fi too, ffs, and you know it, and you know it can do this.)
Part of me wishes I was not on the jury–there are other people who should be in my spot, anyway–just so I could, as a reader, benefit from the product of this process.
The Shortlist tally so far
Something I think many of us are more interested in, rather than the individual shortlists, is the cumulative result of our work. The Shadow Clarke meta-longlist, with tallies, so far:
The Power by Naomi Alderman II
Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton I
The Destructives by Matthew de Abaitua II
Zero K by Don DeLillo I
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin II
A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna II
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee I
Infinite Ground by Martin MacInnes I
The Gradual by Christopher Priest I
Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo II
Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan I
Fair Rebel by Steph Swainston II
Central Station by Lavie Tidhar II
Radiance by Catherine M. Valente I
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead II
The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray I
Four of us have posted. Five more lists to come. I will update this list, just as I’m sure other people, on and off jury, will be putting out their own variations and analyses over the next few weeks.