The Torture of the Shadower, part 7: Reading

The torture this week comes from… the reading. Reading the rest of the Clarke list. I’ll be done this week. It hasn’t been the most pleasurable experience.

The other torture comes from summer vacay on the horizon and the utter desperation I feel to get through the reading and writing of this list, just to be done with it already. I’ve been quiet on the twitterz and that’s why. If I were to tweet anything, it would just be expletives and not very nice things, and we know how fandom prefers we only ‘promote the works we love, and not slag off the mediocrity that dominates visibility, money, and networking, thus elbowing out truly original works that might take us to the next level.’

Or something like that.

*****

The latest Shadow Clarke controversy comes to us from Gareth Beniston, who posted a provocative piece with some radical ideas about how to infuse the Clarke Award with… something different from what we’ve been getting. In the comments, there’s a lot of back-and-forth about quotas and positive action, and whether those efforts patronize writers, and the whole conversation hasn’t gone anywhere I’d like to be. My own angle is supportive, yet difficult to articulate with its socialist edge, and it seems the conversation includes enough white voices on an issue that is usually more instructive when it includes more non-white voices, so I’ve stayed out of it.

I hope it’s clear I’m pro-anything that seeks to rectify a demographic imbalance. I’m radical about most things, and this topic especially.

*****

Speaking of heavily advertised novels–which we weren’t, but we were–my review of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead posted last week. We can’t ignore TUR‘s prominence in the media, but the gulf in style and substance between Whitehead’s sneaky, snakey novel and the rest of the Clarke shortlist is immense, especially between TUR and what I consider the bottom ranked novels on the list. To see intelligent, well-read SF fans nit-pick about scifi-ness is embarrassing, and I hope Whitehead isn’t watching.

My review has, for the most part (thanks, Phil, as always) encountered silence, which leads me to assume I have finally convinced everyone. Good job, me. (It might also be that the essay is too long and who has the time? That, or the stink of dead horse has finally chased off everyone.) (It’s also possible that people scrolled to the bottom first and saw my childish, mocking taunt at the end and decided to skip.) (No, I do not expect to be writing on a university blog for much longer.)

*****

The most famous, most advertised of the six novels on the 2017 Clarke shortlist, yet this 2016 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner, one of Oprah’s favorite things, and a 2017 Sharke pick has been perhaps the most divisive selection in this year’s battle for the best science fiction novel—not because it’s not good enough, not because it’s not interesting enough, but because some readers believe it is not science fictional enough. Continue reading

[Sharke post] A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna

The official 2017 Arthur C. Clarke shortlist was revealed last week. You can view it here. You can view the Sharke Six here. Go on, bask in the inherent weaknesses of both lists.

The Shadow Jury is currently working on a joint response to the official Clarke list, which should post this week, but my biggest concern right now, if you’re keeping track, is that the combined Sharke list and Clarke list means I have nine books left to review.

Nine! NineBooks Dammit!

My other big concern is one I expected: Joanna Kavenna’s A Field Guide to Reality did not make the official Clarke list. Naturally. I’ve mostly come to terms with the snub at this point, since everyone said it was an impossible book to win favor with the Clarke jury, but this is where my outsider-ness is most apparent because I. just. don’t. get. it.

Anyway, as we bid farewell to my personal Sharke shortlist and move on to the next phase of the Shadow Clarke, let’s end it right by giving attention to one that was ignored in favor of skeletal TV writing. Originally posted here, I bring you my review of the bottomless and multidimensional A Field Guide to Reality…

*****

My final shortlistee is another popular novel among the Sharkes: the reality-bending investigation of light and perception, A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna. While Jonathan approves of its class consciousness in the form of a cynical satire of academia, Maureen is intrigued by the alt-Oxford setting and intricate unfolding of universes, while Nina finds it good for “bust[ing] wide open” the science fiction envelope. The Sharke reviews, so far, have demonstrated just how malleable and diaphanous this novel is. Continue reading

Consensual Shortlisting: The Sharke Six

I’m going to postpone my reblog of my final Shadow Clarke shortlist review of A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna because I have other news (and because I have a feeling I’ll be even more defensive about this book by Thursday and will need more space).

So, news! In case you missed it, the Shadow Clarke jury revealed the Sharke Six on Tuesday. This wasn’t part of the original plan, but early into the project, we all agreed that we’d like to engage in a more complete jury process and propose our own joint shortlist. In keeping with our practice of transparency, here it is, in ‘speed of consensus’ order, rather than alpha order:

The 2017 Shadow Clarke shortlist, aka The Sharke Six.

I went into the deliberations with my own agenda, as one does, and left the deliberations feeling satisfied and (awkward USian use of Brit slang coming up) thoroughly chuffed. I must say, this jury is made up of some of the nicest, funniest, smartest people I have ever had the pleasure to work with, and the debate process achieved that magical blend of rigor and pleasure. It was an enjoyable and quick three hours.

There are four novels I consider essential for this list: Underground Railroad, Central Station, A Field Guide to Reality, and The Gradual, and I was prepared to champion to the death the first three, while talking the others out of the last one*. Fortunately, no blood was spilled, and consensus was achieved with surprising ease. The consensual additions of The Arrival of Missives and Infinite Ground soon followed; both being choices I wouldn’t have expected from my fellow jurors, but I’m thrilled they rose to the top. As Nina already outlined on the Sharke blog (linked above), the sixth spot was our most difficult to place, which I expected would go to The Fifth Season and, although I’m lukewarm to the book, I would not have argued against it. Frankly, though, if that last spot couldn’t go to The Gradual, I would have preferred it go to no one at all. My fellow jurors disagreed, and the last spot went to The Power.

*The Gradual is a detrimental loss. I am a growing Priest-head (Inverted World is still my favorite) but it can’t be included on our list, and the link above explains the conflict of interest that connects the novel to our jury. To include it on the list would be unethical, and would undermine our project. Even though I have personal reservations about seeing repeat nominees on award shortlists, I hope the Clarke jury can adjust for this loss, for The Gradual is the most engrossing novel I’ve read in a long time. You must read it.

 

In a few short hours from posting this, the official Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist will be made public. My own IRL schedule has me busy for most of the day, so I’ll get to enjoy all your celebrations, grumblings, and WTFings in my usual time-lapsed, wrong time zone sort of way. Frowny face.

 

The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

As we inch closer to the unveiling of the official Clarke Award shortlist on Wednesday, I should spend the next few days sharing my final three reviews from my own shortlist for the Shadow Clarke jury. These last three selections are the strongest novels on my own list, and even though my own further reading from the submissions list (and further debate with my fellow shadow jurors) has led me to reassess my shortlist, I have a personal interest in seeing that these novels get some well-deserved attention.

First up this week, I bring you The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray. This novel speaks to my heart, being both fannish and faanish (a new word I learned! thanks for the insult!) in its special way, and it often sparked genuine laugh-somewhat-audibly moments. Looking back, I have more reservations about it than I did when I wrote this review. Being a time-wimey type book, the plot is a bit complicated and, inevitably, unsatisfying. Being a lit-fic crossover, the aesthetic is a bit dry, the protagonist is a bit self-absorbed, and it kind of reeks of yuppiness. I’m not sure I can think of the kind of reader who would champion this novel on any shortlist, but I had a good time with nearly all 500+ pages of it.

Comments on the Shadow Clarke blog suggest an uncanny similarity with Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident (2012)… if anyone cares to investigate the resemblance, let me know. I’m curious.

*****

This is the first novel I’ve read from my shortlist that feels like it belongs on the actual Clarke shortlist. Written by a genre outsider, but built definitively upon a classic sci-fi concept, and clearly aware of decades of science fiction fandom and inside jokes, it ticks a few those well-established Clarke-preferred boxes. It’s also quite enjoyable for those same reasons. Continue reading

[Book Review] Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

My second review for the #ShadowClarke project posted last week at the @csffanglia site. Here it is in all its unimpressed glory, although I recommend you make your way over to the site, at least to read the enjoyable comments.

*****

Good Morning, Midnight is a bit of a shortlist risk, as shadow jury conversations have proved. Ranging in complaints about too much lyrical sciencing to complaints about too much overt preciousness, overall, the general jury criticism toward the book has been along the lines of “too much too much.” And yet, the novel has been blurbed as a blend of Station Eleven and Kim Stanley Robinson– two supreme yet entirely different approaches to SF, flawed in their own “too much” ways (the first, a well-written, but literary carpet bagging of superficial SF tropes, the other, an over-lingering on most things, including the sublimation of ice). With comparisons like these, Good Morning, Midnight might be just the kind of “too much too much” I, and other Clarke readers, would relish. Besides, it has stars on the cover, a spaceship in the story, and is free of the usual, predictable pew-pew hijinks that tends to come with spaceship stories, so, for those reasons, it seems like something worth discussing within the context of possible Clarke contenders.

Good Morning, Midnight is about two corresponding perspectives on silence, isolation, and unacknowledged regrets. As Sully and her fellow crewmates return from their mission to Jupiter, all signals from Earth go silent. Meanwhile, Augustine, an aging astronomer, is the only person left at his research station in the Arctic after he stubbornly refuses an unexpected evacuation. Neither scientist knows what has happened to the rest of the earth, but now they find themselves navigating their respective silent voids, inside and out.

It sounds promising and poignant, but it’s considerably less than what the blurbs promise. Continue reading

[An Actual Book Review] The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

Johanna Sinisalo’s The Core of the Sun is a tale about loss, in the form of a gender-stiffening social experiment wrapped in a family drama murder mystery, suffused with oppressive norms, self-delusional recounting, and fabulist nostalgia for a world that once was that actually never was. It’s the kind of novel that joins the ranks of extreme, performative, sociological SF, in the vein of Brunner, Ballard, and Pohl, and the feminist dystopias of Atwood, Russ, and Tiptree. It’s the kind of book that people will say doesn’t belong because a.) it isn’t needed in this age of post-women’s lib, b.) its agenda involves too much agenda, and c.) it isn’t science-y enough. But, as the list of authors cited above indicates, precedence invalidates these kinds of arguments.

Legislated gender is the core of the tale, where not far in our recent past, Finnish society has perverted its liberal roots, designing a padded cell utopia of well-cared-for and easily-labeled citizens. Termed a eusistocracy, the Latin essence of which basically means ‘it’s all good if you stay in your place,’ it’s a nation where women really do go to college to earn their M.R.S., where gender fraud is a thing, and where the mating market is subsidized, with government-sponsored beauty rituals and body-perfecting salons becoming cultural imperatives for women. In this altered Finland, there are four genders: femiwomen and mascos, and, barely tolerated, neuterwomen and minusmen, while all social, economic, and political efforts are geared toward cultivating the lifestyles, pairings, and reproduction of the former two groups, and suppressing the latter two groups.

(When put like that, defense for The Core of the Sun’s presence on my Shadow Clarke shortlist may be less about its scientific and speculative foundation, and more about whether it even qualifies as fiction.) Continue reading

The Torture of the Shadower, part 2: My shortlist, plus meta-list!

The Shadow Clarke project is going strong, and the shortlists are rolling in. Here’s mine, which posted last week:

screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-1-31-02-pm

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. Continue reading