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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Odds and Ends: The Arthur Clarke Award and Genre (by Liviu Suciu)

Last week the winner of the 2010 Arthur Clarke award for science fiction has been announced and to nobody's surprise the huge favorite City & City by China Mieville has won. As with its shortlisting, the victory led to a little bit of questioning about the book sf-nality.

Looking at the 2001-10 winners below, if Perdido Street Station, Quicksilver and Iron Council are considered sf for the purposes of the award, City & City is sf by all means.
Personally I think that Perdido Street Station is fantasy and moreover an essential genre fantasy novel that opened new vistas and considering it as sf is a little overreach, though Iron Council is closer to sf while still mostly fantasy. Quicksilver can be thought as a sort of alt-history, so as sf by the accepted convention that most alt-history is sf and anyway it is very sfnal in themes.

So moving to the content of City & City, I would say that if you want to pigeonhole it in a genre, it is *crime sf* more than anything else. Now these days with the popularity and ubiquity of Urban Fantasy that combines crime, technological modern setting and supernatural creatures/powers, there is a clear argument for City & City as such, but personally I think that Urban Fantasy is quite sf-nal anyway and I would have no qualms about a novel that has crime, modern society and "magic" instead of "unseeing" and The Breach considered for a sf award, though of course the crux of the matter is who writes it and how it is written...

"Unseeing" and The Breach are as "credible" as magic, vampires and such and they all need a different universe than the one we believe we live in as of today's boundaries of science, but the same is true with many staples of sf, so in itself the fact that a novel has what we perceive as "fantasy elements" is not that relevant imho. For myself and roughly speaking, the boundaries between sf and fantasy in a novel are defined more by how society is organized, the role science and technology play, the way humanity's - or whatever sentient beings are around - collective perception of the Universe is and such than by magic swords or ftl spaceships since after all you can have both of those cohabit a fictional universe quite well.


The 2001 - 2010 Arthur Clarke award winners
with short comments/ratings from me

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville (read, my rating A++, defining work of modern fantasy)

2002: Bold as Love by Gwyneth Jones (very little interest for me)

2003: The Separation by Christopher Priest (read, my rating B, beautiful writing and mind bending plot but very nationalistic book that seemed to be more wish fulfillment in keeping the UK as a "great power" at any cost, than anything else and left me disappointed)

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (read, my rating A++, excellent historical fiction with a sfnal bent; the whole Baroque trilogy is a masterpiece of epic fiction)

Iron Council by China Mieville (read, my rating D, very disappointing novel which brought nothing new to the New Crobuzon universe)

2006: Air by Geoff Ryman (very little interest)

2007: Nova Swing by M John Harrison (read, my rating A, not as good as Light though)

2008: Black Man by Richard Morgan (read, my rating B, RK Morgan in repetition mode, so much so that you can guess almost everything that happens if you are very familiar with his Takeshi Kovacs series)

Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod (started to finish later)

The City & The City by China Mieville (read, my rating C, an A+ first half and a big letdown F second half which is generic crime fiction with all its paraphernalia and I just do not like that genre)


Scott said...

Glad to see that I wasn't the only one disappointed with "Iron Council". I couldn't get through it and hoped to start over again some day. It was hard to believe that it was written by the same guy that did "Perdido Street Station" and "The Scar" (with the latter being one of my favorite novels). I still look forward to "The City and the City" though.

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