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BSFA Award Winners for 2015

The awards were announced on Saturday night at Mancunicon, this year’s Eastercon. See some pictures of the presentations here.

The fiction categories featured a double win for Aliette de Bodard.

Best Novel:
Aliette de Bodard, The House of Shattered Wings

Best Short Story:

Aliette de Bodard, Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight

Best Non-Fiction:
Adam Roberts, Rave and Let Die: The SF and Fantasy of 2014

Best Artwork:-
Jim Burns, cover of Pelquin’s Comet.

Rosie Oliver’s reflections are here.

Like her I felt that the novel award winner lay too far to the fantasy side of the SF/Fantasy divide to be considered for an SF award. Others obviously saw things differently.

Glorious Angels by Justina Robson

Gollancz, 2015, 512p.

Glorious Angels cover

The last of this year’s BSFA Award nominees for best novel.

The city of Glimshard is ruled by an Empress, a young Empress relatively new to the post. She is telepathically linked to other Empresses some of whom rule other cities. She can also influence the minds of those nearby her. Off to the north a war is being fought against creatures known as Karoo which have both animal and human characteristics and are referred to as bioplastic. The arrival in Glimshard of a Karoo known as Tzaban has piqued the interest of locals. Despite his warning that unless the Empire retreats from its course its forces will inevitably be defeated by the Karoo he is involved in training troops there.

The narrative viewpoint shifts between various characters but the tale is mainly carried by Tralane Huntingore who, despite references to witchlight, mage-bolts etc, is to all intents and purposes a scientist, with a laboratory in her house. We first meet her searching out crystals which have properties suitable for use in recovered machines of various sorts, among them a mysterious pair of goggles and a gun which diffuses entropy. Under the Empress’s orders Tralane is accompanied by Tzaban through a portal to the site of an artefact containing – or being – a prize everyone in power on this world bar the Karoo seems to seek to control.

The text feels oddly balanced, though. Towards the beginning Robson expends a lot of time in describing Glimshard society; there is in particular a scene illustrating an aspect of its sexual mores which doesn’t really illustrate character nor advance the plot. It may be that by that point in the book the norms in Glimshard have not been sufficiently established. Yet it is a strength that Robson eschews any egregious information dumping. Though it is important to this world that women/females are the powers behind it that fact is almost incidental to the narrative and never overtly stressed except for Karoo queens being all powerful with no male able to withstand their influence. The latter parts of the book, though, almost feel like a different novel entirely as plot gallops in and sweeps all before it. Something which may be an invention by Robson (I don’t recall reading of anything similar before, but then my reading of fantasy lags way behind that of SF) is that Karoo assimilate knowledge by eating each other – or humans.

The “magic” is treated matter of factly, in effect as if it were technology: apart from the influencing of minds by the Empresses and the Karoo’s knowledge-gaining attributes it may in fact be technology in our terms. The goggles show a certain star in the sky to be a manufactured object. This points to a science-fictional reading of the text (as does the revelation of the nature of the artefact the fighting was about.) Both suggest a sequel may be forthcoming.

Glorious Angels is good enough to be worthwhile reading; but an award contender? Not for me, I’m afraid.

Pedant’s corner:- The first section uses plural pronouns to describe a certain individual. Granted Robson wishes the person’s identity to be unknown until the viewpoint character finds out who it is – but as I have just demonstrated, what is wrong with using the gender neutral it or its in this context? (It would perhaps have been too far for Robson’s intentions for this scene for her to (re)invent a universal non gender-specific pronoun such as “hir” or “hem”.) Parillus’ (Parillus’s, x 2) “she badly didn’t want to lose the goggles,” (I know what Robson means but the construction is awkward,) betted (bet; several instances,) a missing full stop, (more than once,) Isabeu (Isabeau,) ass (x 2; though arse is used elsewhere,) “one who is making the most of themselves” (himself,) Empress’ (numerous instances; though once we had Empress’s,) ‘“He’s an asshole”’ (arsehole is so much more expressive,) “she laid back” (lay back,) Zarazin (Zharazin,) “where she had laid” (lain,) are are, (one are is enough,) “the Sorority” is treated as a plural noun rather than a singular one, “how many far better woman had surely been here before her” (women,) “either side of the processional carpets were filled with people” (both sides were – or, either side was – filled,) “recognised a lot of faces from the University crowd seated or talking together” (okay, faces is a synecdoche here but the sentence reads very oddly,) dais’ (dais’s,) denoument (denouement,) had known and laid in wait (lain in wait,) “was not without precedence” (precedent,) “This was the minimum cruise height for the landscape, any less ran the risk of damaging structures, and more was profligate, a waste of energy” (optimum cruise height, then,) “his intent distaste of the sound” (intense distaste of?) “she couldn’t hold it in longer” (any longer,) “None were unable to stand against them” (the sense was the complete opposite, ie “none were able to stand against them”,) lay up (lie up,) “where the science team were still working” (the team was,) harness’ (harness’s,) sprung (sprang.)

BSFA Awards 2015 Booklet

BSFA Awards 2015 cover

First, congratulations to the BSFA for getting this out in time in time for it to be read before the presentation of the awards at Eastercon. Easter is remarkably early this year. About as early as it can possibly be. (See previous post.)
And not only does the booklet contain the listed short stories but also the non-fiction nominees (or extracts therefrom) and as usual the nominated artworks.

As to the short fiction:-

Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight by Aliette de Bodard.1
An interstellar Empire has crop-growing space stations and long-lived mindships. Parents’ memories are usually downloaded to their children but those of crop researcher Professor Duy Uyen are allocated to her research group’s next leader. Her daughter, who became a mindship, will nevertheless remember her forever.

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell.2
A supermarket chain wants to build an outlet in a town where the borders with the other worlds are weak. This would result in the borders being breached. The witches of the title (not all of whom are witches) are three women who band together to preserve the status quo (in all its aspects.)

No Rez by Jeff Noon.3
Unlike in its original publication (in Interzone 260) the text here is not laid out transversely (perhaps robbing the story of some of its visual impact.) The tale is nevertheless rendered in a variety of typefaces. In its world, pixels are the be-all and end-all. Our narrator stumbles across a dead body with a box that renders everything in high rez. Heavies then come after him to get the box back.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor.4
Binti is the first of her Himba kind to be invited to Oomza Uni, the first to leave Earth. Her tribal habit was to cover themselves in otjize, a mixture of plant extract and red clay. On the trip the space ship is invaded by Meduse with whom the otherwise dominant humans, the Khoush, are at war. Only Binti’s edna – a general name for a piece of old tech whose use no-one remembers – protects her. Otijze turns out to be useful to the Meduse, as does Binti herself.

Ride the Blue Horse by Gareth L Powell.5
In a post-apocalypse US two men scavenging amongst a huge collection of shipping containers for sellable goodies from the old days uncover a 1960s Ford Mustang. The freedom of the road beckons.

In the non-fiction6 Nina Allan called for the possibility of a woman Doctor (Who) not to be dismissed and for that programme to be less self-referential, the book of Letters to Tiptree acknowledges the legacy of Alice Sheldon (aka James Tiptree Jr,) James McCalmont worries about the future of impartial reviewing, Adam Roberts surveys the SF and Fantasy of 2014 (and skewers Puppygate for its baleful effect on the Hugo Awards,) while Jeff VanderMeer tells of his trials while writing his three novels that were published in one year.

Pedant’s corner:-
1 “had fallen out before, on more trivial things” (over more trivial things,) “treason to much as think this” (to as much as think this,) “the only thing in existence were the laboratory and the living quarters” (“and” – therefore the only things in existence were,) designed to accept an unbalance (imbalance,) it’s mother’s hands that lie her down into the cradle” (lay her down [in?] the cradle,) ‘“When I hear you were back into service”’ (in service.)
2 This is set in Gloucestershire so the need to use the USianism “gotten” totally escapes me. Also “I could have used” for “I could have done with”. I know it was originally published on a US website but that’s no excuse. After all Cornell does have one character say “summat” as in summat terrible. Sprung (sprang,) focussed (focused,) “instead that she setting up the shop” (was setting up the shop,) “someone she vaguely new” (knew.)
3 “She always get the best streams” (gets,) “too many people, to many viewpoints, all on me” (context suggests “too many viewpoints”.)
4 “too old for anyone to know it functions” (its functions,) CO2 (CO2,) sunk (sank, x 3,) conducter (conductor,) ‘“The only thing I have killed are small animals”’ (things, then,) “all I could see were a tangle of undulating tentacles and undulating domes” (all I could see was…,) “Or the cool gasses” (gases) “Okwu promised would not harm my flesh even though I could not breathe it” (breathe them,) miniscule (minuscule,) museum specimen of such prestige are highly prized” (specimens,) ojtize (otjize,) clear is used to mean colourless rather than transparent.
5 Written in USian. “I caught a whiff of carbon monoxide.” (Carbon monoxide is odourless I’m afraid. A whiff of partially burnt petrol, maybe.) Plus: if the narrator and his companion don’t know how to drive a car (and nor has anybody for decades) how does he know which is first (gear) and what a clutch is?
6 There were typos etc (noun/verb disagreements in particular) in most of the non-fiction but I haven’t bothered enumerating them.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Gollancz, 2015, 408 p. One of this year’s BSFA Award nominees for best novel.

 The House of Shattered Wings cover

The Fallen are impossible. Their bones are far too lacking in density to bear their bodies’ weights, no backbone could possibly support the wings necessary for flight. (Those wings, useless after falling, are then removed. Only the Fallen, Morningstar, founder of House Silverspires, ever wore wings on Earth; but his were artificial and a species of weaponry.) But the Fallen have magic. Their breath and their rendered body parts can be rendered into magic residues. Each individual Fallen has no idea of the reason for having been expelled from heaven, knowing only that no return is possible.

Paris is dominated by Houses, whose heads may be Fallen or human. The Houses have been in uneasy balance since the aftermath of the Great War between them, which the text has beginning in 1914, evoking resonances with our own world, but this is the only date given in the book and the Houses’ war clearly has no parallel with a lengthy stalemate. The balance is upset by the falling of an angel (that is the only word to describe these beings) into the remains of Notre Dame Cathedral where gang members are scavenging. Their attempts to extract magic residues from her body are interrupted by Selene, after Morningstar’s disappearance head of House Silverspires by default, who names the angel Isabelle and takes her into Silverspires as a member and one of the gang, Philippe, an Annamese exile from the Court of the Jade Emperor, as a prisoner of the House. But during the scavenging they had come upon an artefact which contains dark magic intended to undo House Silverspires.

Religion exists in this Paris and appears to be familiarly Christian (and Roman Catholic at that: well, in France it would be) but how this squares with the existence in the human realm of Fallen from Heaven de Bodard keeps from us. Similarly the Fallen have motivations and desires which do not seem different, if at all, to those of humans (whether inside the story or outwith it in our own world.) We spend a lot of early time with Philippe, who is immortal (an unexplained circumstance but seemingly something to do with his Annamese inheritance) but also inhabit the views of Selene, Isabelle and of Silverspires’s alchemist, Madeleine. Crucially though de Bodard hasn’t done enough to engage our sympathies with House Silverspires and its threatened demise in an act of revenge by a former House member, Nightingale, who was betrayed by Morningstar to appease Asmodeus, head of House Hawthorn. It also wasn’t clear from the text whence Nightingale derives the power to do all this. The eventual resolution of Silverspires’s immediate troubles lies within the logic of the world though. There is, too, a running motif about possible resurrection of personalities which is left unresolved, perhaps for future volumes.

The House of Shattered Wings is not one for me, I’m afraid. I’m puzzled as to why people would consider it among the year’s best. It’s more fantasy than SF anyway.

Pedant’s corner:- written in USian, “boats to Asia almost inexistent” (in this sort of context it’s usually “non-existent”,) “his hand loosely wrapped around his handle” (its handle,) maw (de Bodard uses this to mean mouth; it actually means stomach,) ‘“You didn’t use to be”’ (didn’t used to; which appears seven lines below!) Silverspires’ (Silverpires’s, several instances,) ‘“to leave him into my care”’ (in my care,) the sentence, “The fact that she couldn’t have looked more innocent if she’d tried – and God knew Claire was no innocent,” is missing a main clause, “that no-one and nothing was coming to save him” (the “and” means there ought really to be a plural verb here,) “but nothing would leap into the broken mess of his hands – but there was only” (two “buts”?) octopi (the English plural is octopuses, the Greek is octopodes,) “set them at each other’s throat” (there’s only one throat between them?) “Closer, though, it didn’t quite look as impressive” (it didn’t look quite as impressive,) “Apart from that, it looked like a usual plant” (it looked like a normal plant,) ‘“You’re going to chastise me for lacking to do my duty”’ (failing to do my duty; or, being lacking in my duty,) ‘“You knew the rules and flaunted them”’ (that would be flouted, flaunting is something else entirely,) “the shop” (Les Halles) “ had been nuked in the war, and an upstart House had settled in the wreckage, making grandiloquent claims of restoring the art deco building to its former glory,” (nuked? And it can be restored? Any nuke would have destroyed the whole of Paris – and beyond – never mind Les Halles,) overlaid (overlain,) twinging (I had to think about this a second or so before I thought “twingeing”,) smidgeon (smidgen/smidgin.)

BSFA Awards Lists

The BSFA has just announced the short list for this year’s awards (ie for works published in 2015.)

See this link for the full lists.

As far as the fiction is concerned the final nominees are

Best Novel:-

*Dave Hutchinson: Europe at Midnight, Solaris

*Chris Beckett: Mother of Eden, Corvus

Aliette de Bodard: The House of Shattered Wings, Gollancz

*Ian McDonald: Luna: New Moon, Gollancz

Justina Robson: Glorious Angels, Gollancz

Best Short Story:-

Aliette de Bodard: Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight, Clarkesworld 100

Paul Cornell: Witches of Lychford, Tor.com

*Jeff Noon: No Rez, Interzone 260

Nnedi Okorafor, Binti, Tor.com

Gareth L. Powell: Ride the Blue Horse, Matter

Of those, I have read the ones asterisked. That’s three out of the five novels and one of the five shorts. I look forward to receiving the usual booklet containing the short stories.

Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod

PS Publishing, 2008, 304 p.

 Song of Time cover

Love, sex and death.

Oh, I know within these pages there are dead people who are somehow still able to exist, an intelligent kitchen, a crystal field saturating the environment, artificial skin, the last snow melting from Kilimanjaro, computer screens with no visible supports, a nuclear war, the Yellowstone supervolcano blowing up, not to mention a symphony that continually rewrites itself, but these are all just background: at its core Song of Life charts the three literary biggies. And the greatest of these is love.

One day towards the back end of the twenty-first century Roushana Maitland finds a half-drowned man, possibly attempting to enter the country illegally and who does not remember who he is, on the Cornish beach just below her house. She drags him up to safety and shelter. His presence and her imminent transfiguration (not death, she has very recently undergone the procedure which will undo that) trigger memories of her life. Song of Time’s chapters alternate between depictions of her present day with the stranger in her house, whom she dubs Adam but who himself pronounces it Abaddon, and her memories of the unfolding century.

Roushana is of mixed heritage, Indian on her mother’s side, Irish on her father’s. Her brother Leo is a gifted musician but contracts WRFI, Wide Range Food Intolerance, perhaps brought about by an artificial virus targeted on the lactose tolerant, an adaptation mostly found in Westerners. Unable to withstand the debilitation this has caused him, he commits suicide, telling Roushana, It’s up to you now, Sis. She polishes her up to then not particularly good efforts on the violin and, with the later help of famous conductor Claude Vaudin who eventually becomes her husband, parlays them into fame and fortune. Her story is set against the background of a disintegrating world: racial tensions erupt in Britain, unspecified divisions occur elsewhere, a millenarian type of cult arises. In terms of terrorism and world politics this future is like our present, only more so. But technological progress still occurs. The environment becomes enmeshed in the “ever-spreading network of crystal” but no mechanism for the dead to still be around after death is elaborated beyond the “crystal seed of immortality whining its way” into Roushana’s skull.

It may seem counter-intuitive to have classical music as the driver for Roushana’s fame, but pop stardom would have been too clichéd, and a future classical revival of sorts is not too much of a stretch. There is in any case some genre crossing. Claude’s performances in clubs at times read more like those of a jazz musician.

Song of Time contains a profoundly imagined and realised world and Roushana’s voice is an engaging one. That there are doubts over the exact circumstances of Claude’s death ring entirely true, Leo’s continuing influence over her life being a source of jealousy to Claude.

MacLeod has a poignant story to tell, has a facility with language, a poet’s ear at times, scatters out in one book more ideas than many authors would use in a lifetime and the book itself is a lovely object. Roushana’s story is one I’ll remember for a long time. Looking back I see Song of Time won the literary-inclined Clarke Award. However, it didn’t make the nominee list for the BSFA Award for 2008. (The fact that the SF elements can be construed as only background may have told against it.) I have not read three of the four on that year’s list but nevertheless they’d have to be going some to be better novels than this.

I have a caveat, though.

Did anybody proof-read this thing?

Pedant’s corner:- “Pregnancy came as a shock to me…. The sheer alienness of the symptoms…” (But Roushana had been pregnant before – albeit then had an abortion.) Disks (discs,) programs (programmes) – I don’t care even if either of these two were to do with computers – practise (innumerable times as a noun, but the noun is “practice” which strangely also appears correctly at times,) the late 1950s in the search of (in the late 1950s in search of,) “They didn’t have say it” (have to say it,) into him arm (his,) the speed in which (with which,) lineney (lineny,) sung (sang,) would not longer (no longer,) with she as she was (with her as she was,) it was shade (a shade,) Doges’ Palace (Doge’s,) on diet (on a diet,) as goes inside (as he goes inside,) after I’ve I sat him down (either I’ve or I, but not both,) “You where I mean” (You know where I mean,) “For a just a while” (for just a while,) glowing n his (in his,) unfocussed (unfocused, ) “Pakkis” but later, “Paki-girl”, the “the village” (just “the village”,) sewerage (sewage,) lost contact Uncle Indra (lost contact with Uncle Indra,) reforming (re-forming,) I really do have sit down (have to sit down,) St Fimbarrus’ (St Fimbarrus’s,) we took at ride (a ride,) whilst still officially still at war (one still too many here, plus there was another “still” later in the same sentence,) how you were you supposed to deal (a “you” too many,) ignited =in (ignited in,) its commanding view sea (sea view.) Back the kitchen (Back in the kitchen,) Miles Davis’ (Miles Davis’s,) fames (??), has (had,) Blythe Monroe (on all other appearances it was Munro,) I was following what he saying (what he was saying,) in one of pots (one of the pots,) Christos’ (Christos’s) Cholera B (is later Cholera b,) of a return virtuality to paint (of a return from virtuality to paint,) pervious (previous.) Near beside them (Near them? Beside them?) Periphique (Peripherique,) sit ins (sit-ins,) burn-out (burned-out,) I knew that Claude was be out debating (“would be” or “was”, but not “was be”,) virtuality de monde (as I remember my French that’s du monde,) focussed (focused,) if she’s started (she’d,) the orchestra were (orchestra is singular; therefore the orchestra was.) Loose faith (Lose faith,) whether he of she (he or she,) Bezant’s Bay (in most instances it’s Bezant Bay,) one instance of its for it’s, complemented (complimented,) it they haven’t been paid enough (if,) one of periodic eruptions (one of the periodic eruptions,) the early half-life of the radiation had decreased considerably (the radiation level may decrease but the half-life most certainly doesn’t,) softy steaming greenery (softly?) were (where,) so I often with worked with, anything less that whole-heartedly (than,) wintery (wintry,) closer to him that when he was (than when he was,) after I’d laid down (lain,) the least emotion I felt was surprise (the last emotion) I can’t read you mind (your,) with its all lights (with all its lights,) it’s shrunken (shrunk.) The text implies Yellowstone is in Colorado but it is mostly in Wyoming with parts extending into Montana and Idaho.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Orbit, 2014, 360 p.

 Ancillary Sword cover

Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch, is still at war with herself through the intermediacy of the countless bodies her persona inhabits. As in Leckie’s previous novel, Ancillary Justice, our narrator is Breq, the sole surviving part of the ship AI Justice of Torren, one of its auxiliaries, now promoted by one faction of the Lord of the Radch to Fleet Captain in charge of the ship Mercy of Kalr and despatched to the Athoek system to protect it from incursion by the Lord’s other faction and a possible threat from the Presger, aliens bound by treaty to the Radch and therefore to all humans. Due to the civil war all gates between systems have been closed – only military ships can jump between worlds. At Athoek, Breq finds various local rivalries, evidence of illicit trade through a “Ghost Gate” of bodies in suspended animation – the type of bodies used for auxiliaries – and indentured labourers who are all but slaves. Had I not read Ancillary Justice this might have been well enough but, given the background of war between the Radch, it all seems to be a bit of a sideshow. Then again, there are human stories to be found in the byways of any conflict and it is possible Breq is being placed to take part in a wider resolution. It does, though, give Leckie the opportunity to explore more of the Radch and its culture(s).

Leckie’s use of the female pronoun to describe all her characters is not problematical here except in one instance where a character’s sibling is referred to as a brother on entering the story. If the pronoun is gender neutral would not the word sister always be used? That males exist within Leckie’s universe is shown in a scene of attempted comedy when Breq arrives at Athoek Station to find its walls bedecked with paper penises, in a festival deriving from a misunderstanding during the Radch takeover of Athoek.

Ancillary Sword won the BSFA Award for best novel published last year. (I’ve now read all but one of the nominees.) It’s good, but I wouldn’t have voted it first.

Pedant’s corner:- Written in USian so among others we get the horrible “off of”. None were (none = “not one” and so requires “was” as its verb,) metric tons (tonnes then,) waked (wakened,) pry the gun (prise?) There are, too, 15 added pages containing an extract of a book written by another author altogether. This is utterly pointless.

The Clarke Award for 2014

Hot from the BSFA website, here’s the shortlist:-

The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey (Orbit)
The Book Of Strange New Things – Michel Faber (Canongate)
Europe In Autumn – Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)
Memory Of Water – Emmi Itäranta (HarperVoyager)
The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August – Claire North (Orbit)
Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel (Picador)

I’ve read four of these! I’m delighted to see both Emmi Itäranta and Emily St John Mandel (who missed out on BSFA Award nominations) on this list.

BSFA Awards for 2014 Announced

The winners were announced yesterday at Eastercon and are:-

Best Novel: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit)

Best Short Fiction: The Honey Trap by Ruth E. J. Booth, La Femme (Newcon Press)

Best Non-Fiction: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers and the First World War by Edward James

Best Art: “The Wasp Factory” after Iain Banks by Tessa Farmer

Congratulations to all. Commiserations to all the runners-up.

Currently Reading

That part of my sidebar which also provides the title of this post is at the moment inaccurate.

I read the BSFA Awards booklet as soon as it arrived in order to meet the voting deadline and took time out from Andrés Neuman’s Traveller of the Century to do so. I’ve finished the booklet now (see the review on my previous post) and I’m nearing the end of Traveller of the Century.

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