The 2017 Clarke Award shortlist will be published tomorrow but I had decided this year to explore the submission list before it. Here's a breakdown of what I read and my own shortlist established with a jury comprised of me, myself and I - we were not always in agreement but managed to keep things civil.
At this date, I've read 23 out of the 87 books from the submission list. There were stories I had read before the submission list was published (I talk about them here). Below you'll find a quick breakdown of those I've read since.
- Naomi Alderman, The Power (review).
- Sarah Jane Anders, All the birds in the sky. I definitely wasn't the right reader for this one and gave it up at page 150.
- China Miéville, This Census-Taker (review).
- Alexandra Oliva, The Last One. It will most certainly please fans of gripping post-apocalyptic thrillers. But though the novel has a strong premise, I found it a bit predictable.
- Christopher Priest, The Gradual. Everytime I pick a Priest novel, I really really want to like it. And every time it doesn't work for me (and, trust me, I've tried many times!). I know, it's akin to blasphemy to say that Priest's stories don't work for you, but sadly, this latest is no exception.
- M. Suddain, Hunters and Collectors. An entertaining scifi novel, with great grisly baroque comical scenes. I very much concur with the Shadow Clarke jury thoughts about it, reservations included. (Review to be published on 20 May.)
- Tricia Sullivan, Occupy Me. An original novel with cool scifi concepts, but I felt they didn't really paid off and I had real trouble getting into it.
- Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad. It's a remarkable novel I encourage anyone to read, but, despite a tweak here and there to reality, to me, it's not scifi. Really a must read that I was happy to read and that I heartily recommend, but it won't make my shortlist because of that.
- Aliya Whiteley, The Arrival of Missives (review).
- Ben Winters, Underground Airlines. It was well written, but scifi thrillers aren't really my cup of tea and despite liking the concept, I couldn't really get into it.
My own shortlist is trying to fulfill the requirement left by Sir Arthur C. Clarke for a positive promotion of science-fiction among the books I've prefered from the submission list. It is slightly different from the one I had originally picked. It is also different from the one I submitted to the Shadow Clarke contest in which I only tried to see what would work for the jury. It was very hard to set some novels aside. I'm particularly thinking about After Atlas, but when looking back at it, I've realised that I prefered Planetfall. It would definitely have made it to my shortlist if I had done it in 2016. I also wish Rosewater had been on the submission list: I can't say enough good things about it and it's a real pity it wasn't published in the UK.
All of the stories I've picked I've also reviewed: click on the title to read a more exhaustive review of them.
1. N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season. The novel uses an original and terrifying setting, the characters are remarkably drawn and empowering, and the writing is wonderful, varied and would put to shame some of those "proper literature" novels. But is it scifi? Well... It's written "Earth" on the title of the trilogy, isn't it? (Alright, I tagged it in the fantasy category initially... But I'll be happy to change the category as soon as the last volume is published - soon!) I concur with the Shadow Clarke jury that it isn't a novel in itself in that it is a first part of a whole, but, to me, it's just too good to miss out.
2. Aliya Whiteley, The Arrival of Missives. The novel amazingly masters the brief form, a feat too rare to go unnoticed, and manages to cram into 83 pages some remarkable characters, an intriguing story, an old scifi concept neatly re-used and a striking feminist pamphlet. I gush lengthily about its quality in the actual review, so feel free to check it out.
3. Chris Beckett, Daughter of Eden. I won't be surprised if it isn't on the official shortlist because it's the last in a series. But it wonderfully ends a series: it brings a believable and welcome closure to the original (and origins!) story. It's also a great novel about stories, human self-delusion and the way we forge our own chains and feuds, all of that set on a highly original planet that never failed to amaze me through the three volumes.
4. Nick Wood, Azanian Bridges. A topical novel about racism, empathy and segregation. It has its flaws, I once again concur with the Shadow Clarke Jury, but I think its voice was fresh, in retrospect, I enjoyed the mental issues raised (something that aren't tackled enough in scifi, though you can check Planetfall about that too) and the theme of empathy is much needed in our world today.
5. China Miéville, This Census-Taker. It is a striking and beautiful novella about family relationships and grief, about fear and violence, and, most of all, about the unknown. Once again, Miéville wowed me with his literary prowess.
6. Naomi Alderman, The Power. What I enjoyed most in The Power was how it continued the conversation about feminism in scifi novels, from Octavia Butler to Elisabeth Vonarburg without forgetting Margaret Atwood. But it is also a very powerful novel (no pun intended) that stands on its own. Out of all the novels I've picked, I think it's also the one that could more easily make it into the mainstream.
What I think is missing in my shortlist: it's definitely missing big space ships going vrooooom... There weren't many novels from the submission list I read that met this "requirement" and out of the three I read, none made it to my shortlist. But I think it reveals more about what I've enjoyed reading lately in our favourite genre rather than any fall in quality in space operas.
My own winner: Aliya Whiteley, The Arrival of Missives. Before having read it, I'd have said my winner was N.K. Jemisin, but The Arrival of Missives blew me over with its deceptively simple story.
Some past winners of the Arthur C. Clarke Award reviewed on The Middle Shelf
Other unofficial shortlists for the 2017 Clarke Award you can also check:
"While we were reading" is an irregular feature in which C. shares thoughts with friends Leigh, Ian, Azzie , Amy and other guests about reading science-fiction and fantasy. Nothing fancy, come as you are.