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2013-04-28 10:15 am

Personal opinion on the Clarke books.

This is not a guess who is going to win, because it's the Clarke Award. The only time I ever managed to guess in advance I was a judge.

But my opinion and preference, for what's worth:

Read more... )
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2013-04-28 10:02 am

Ken MacLeod, Intrusion (Clarke Award)

I left this book until last because commenting is dead awkward: I read the rough draft for this as I have for Ken's books for a decade now, and I had more to do with it than I have with some of the others. Many of the arguments in the book about the oppressive potential of protectionist liberal feminism were grounded in ferocious discussions we've had over the years.

Having re read it this morning, I still think it's the best book Ken has written since Learning the World

Hope lives in a very near future Islington, where ante-natal care has become a reason to deprive women of a lot of freedom. Next on the list is a pill which protects children from lots of mild illnesses. There is a religious exemption but Hope doesn't qualify and has no intention of faking it. It doesn't help that her objections are nebulous and much more focussed on the issue of coercion than the pill itself. But when Hope resists in the face of increasing pressure, she finds she's become an "easy case to make an example of" and that she is now the focus of social workers, police, and professional resisters. It's a classic story of "little man encounters authority" and discovers the world does't work the way he thought it did. Except it's a woman. Of which more in a moment.

The book is set in one of the few future visions of Britain that I can recognise from where we are now: it's thoroughly multicultural, in a Haggis Pakora way*, in that this is no blended utopia, there is plenty of racism, institutional racism is rife and white folk can easily remain cheerfully oblivious of the experiences of their non-white friends.

The book passes the Bechdel test effortlessly: women have conversations with each other and they aren't about men or shoe shopping; it passes whatever the race version of this one is, in that non white people have conversations with each other about science and politics rather than about white people or about racism (tho there are a few of those).

It pays enormous attention to landscape, both physical and social, and it has a sly humour that keeps catching me off guard.

It has a few of Ken's trademark twitches, and a classic "huh?" kind of ending, but as he manages not to send cities into space, it's quite moderate by Ken's standards.

I like it a very great deal, in case that isn't clear.

*see Iain Banks, Whit
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2013-04-27 09:35 am

Chris Beckett, Dark Eden

Andre Norton style lost colony survival story in which young man sets out on a trek to find The Truth.

Good stuff:
descriptions of alien world;
sense of a language and culture dying;
worked through ideas on what happens genetically to a small colony;
modern high stakes ending.

Bad stuff:
girl-peer spends too much time thinking how very Different and Special, young man is*;
only two types of sex: vaginal for conceiving, anal for avoiding it, and it's all heterosexual**
I've read this story before, several times, so it's all in the execution.

If I were thirteen this is exactly the kind of book that would have got me hooked on science fiction.


One more Clarke book to go, Intrusion

* This might have worked with a significant age difference but they are depicted as the same age, and generally speaking, 15 year old girls regard 15 year old boys as jerks.
**I'm happy to accept that women don't want to make children in this society with men who have cleft palates because of the risk to their future children, but this seems to be a society without love-drive to idiotic sex, or without blow jobs for just fun, and even without circle jerks for un partnered sex. Maybe there is homosexuality but I was skimming by that point.
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2013-04-16 08:47 am

Peter Heller, The Dog Stars (Clarke book)


Man and Partner survive on their own with dog after major disease epidemic destroys America. They have an airplane. Eventually He Finds a Woman. She is a Doctor (so bloody useless then, what you want for community care is a nurse or midwife). A possible medication is found (VItamin D? G-d give me strength, that's not how disease works).

End of book.

Lyrical, elegiacally, delusional about the likelihood of lone v. communal survivors as US apocalyptic novels tend to be.

Sf? By definition, has to be, but written as classic YA introspection.

There is always one wtf? novel on the Clarke list, as sure is eggs is eggs. This is at least a beautifully written one.
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2013-04-10 07:04 pm

Nod by Adrian Barnes (Bluemoose) - Clarke Reading Project

This is “just” a cosy catastrophe, a story about what happens when people can no longer sleep and start to go slowly, inevitably, mad, told by one of the few people who stays awake. I started reading thinking “same old same old” and ended utterly gripped by the really impressive writing.

I can imagine this as a winner.
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2013-04-08 06:57 am

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)

A quick catch up: I'm reading the Clarke List, the female writers not submitted, and a handful of perceived "near misses", and will do a long write up just before the awards on May 1st. You will find the original post here

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did, because while the premise is sound, and some of the descriptions are stunning, I was constantly niggled at by the 1940s plot and a subtext that I really didn’t need.

There was also a certain "follow the man in the white hat" element to the plot: Swan (and the reader) just had to *believe*. There wasn't a lot of room left for skepticism.

Read more... )
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2013-04-04 05:28 pm

Clarke Awards (male short list)

Liz Williams gives a very good explanation (no, it is not a defence) here:

I just wanted to add: about eighteen months ago I asked on LJ which women had UK contracts for science fiction. The result was dismal. Where women did have contracts they were likely to be in YA, a genre I read but which often has aspects to it that weaken its sf (and I'm not talking about romance, but consequence: see The Inter-Galactic Playground for the argument if you care). A bunch of us realised that we were rapidly heading for a year in which there would be very few women eligible for the BSFA or Clarke awards.

i) we were right
ii) there are rather more books by women coming out next year in the major presses.

The more I've dug, the more I've come to think the issue is with the buyers. Go look at your local book shop and library. See if you can find any science fiction by a woman other than LeGuin. If you can't, ask them why not. Shops can claim market but a library is *obliged* to cater for you as a constituent.

I have no comment on the short list itself; I've read one, am mildly surprised about the absence of M John Harrison, and I've ordered the rest. Comments on the actual list later.