So, this year’s list of Clarke Award submissions is out, and a number of things immediately strike me about it. One is the number of eligible books that aren’t there. Last year’s pool of submissions felt fairly comprehensive to me; this year’s, despite being a longer list, feels less so. Admittedly I’ve paid more attention to what’s eligible for this year’s Clarke: I compiled a list of mainstream-published science fiction last year; if you add on the additional titles mentioned in the comments (and disregard the one I got wrong!), only two were submitted for the Clarke. That leaves at least a dozen mainstream-published sf novels that weren’t even submitted (my list was by no means exhaustive), and no doubt a fair number of genre-published titles weren’t either (Niall Harrison suggests a few in his post).
Of course, the Clarke submissions pool was never going to be entirely comprehensive, and sixty books is plenty enough for the judges to read and construct a decent shortlist. There would also have been no small amount of discussion over eligibility this year: there seems to be an unusually high number of submissions that fall outside the science fiction box (even by my own inclusive standards). Some of these (like Grimwood’s The Fallen Blade, or Oyeyemi’s Mr Fox) are clearly fantasy; but others are more ambiguous: Nicholas Royle’s Regicide (for example) doesn’t sound like sf – and I wouldn’t expect a book by hm to be sf – but I can’t be sure of that. The same goes for plenty more on the submissions list.
This makes trying to predict the shortlist all the more difficult, because there’s every chance that one of these borderline titles may be good enough – and sf-nal enough – to make the cut (it’s worth remembering that two of last year’s shortlisted titles – including the eventual winner – were just such borderline novels). And then, as Niall pointed out to me on Twitter this morning, there are the core science fiction titles which have so far garnered relatively little attention. With so many unknown quantities, how do I begin to guess what might be shortlisted for the Clarke?
Well, I’ll start where I always do: with the high-profile genre releases that feel like sure-fire Clarke material. This year, that’s China Miéville’s Embassytown (the closest thing to science fiction he’s yet written), and Christopher Priest’s The Islanders (a major return by a very significant author). I don’t think these books are their authors’ best work, but neither can I conceive that they’d be omitted from the Clarke shortlist.
Priest and Miéville are previous Clarke winners, and two others have had works submitted, so I need to consider whether they might be shortlisted. What I know of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde suggests that it falls far enough towards the thriller end of the thriller-sf continuum that I have my doubts. Ian R. MacLeod’s Wake Up and Dream is almost certainly a very fine book, but MacLeod doesn’t feel like a shoo-in for the shortlist in the way that Miéville and Priest do.
There are a number of sequels among the submissions and, whilst it’s not unheard-of for such titles to make it (Monsters of Men did last year, of course), I don’t think that will happen this time. Sophia McDougall’s Savage City is my guess at the most likely such candidate, but I’m going to leave sequels out of my guess.
Adam Roberts is a genre author I’d usually turn to as a Clarke contender, and here I can actually consider a book from a position of knowledge. I think By Light Alone is good, but not quite up there with Roberts’s previous two novels (and I haven’t been able to put my thoughts on it in order, hence no review from me as yet), so I’m inclined to discount it.
So far, I’ve mainly been ruling books out; which can I nominate in the affirmative? There’s one more genre sf title which has really stood out for me in terms of its positive coverage, and that is Osama by Lavie Tidhar. It sounds to me like a Clarke contender, so I’m going to put it on my list.
Turning to mainstream-published works, I must include The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood in my selection, because I think it’s a great book, and I want the Clarke to recognise it, and for it to be read more widely among the sf community. It’s the novel that, overall, I most want to be shortlisted for this year’s Clarke Award.
Staying with non-genre titles, I’d agree with Niall that Colson Whitehead’s Zone One sounds like the sort of book that might get shortlisted for the Clarke, and it has had enough positive reviews that I’m of a mind to include it.
Which leaves me with one vacant slot, and I’m not sure where to go with it. I don’t want to take a wild guess at a book, so I’ll play it relatively safe, and suggest Jane Rogers’ The Testament of Jessie Lamb, which of course gained its attention from being longlisted for the Booker.
So, my guess at the Clarke shortlist is:
Christopher Priest, The Islanders
Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb
Lavie Tidhar, Osama
Colson Whitehead, Zone One
Naomi Wood, The Godless Boys
I’m not calling this a prediction, because I don’t really think I’ll be right – and, indeed, in a way I hope I’m wrong, because I would like to be surprised by one (or more) of those borderline books. As to whether I will be, that will have to wait until the Clarke shortlist is announced at the end of March.