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BSFA Awards 2012 Short Stories

All the Shortlisted Stories BSFA, 2013, 90 p.

(The awards for 2012 will be presented this Sunday (31/3/13) at the Bradford Eastercon.)

BSFA Awards Booklet 20122013

Immersion by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, no. 69)

A domineering culture known as Galactic has a piece of tech called an immerser which at once disguises its wearer but also provides him or her with cues to fit in culturally.
The narrative is twofold – one in second person from the viewpoint of a non-Galactic woman who never takes her immerser off (originally in an effort not to embarrass her Galactic husband,) the other in third person focusing on Quy, a non-Galactic inhabitant of Longevity Station, and whose sister Tam is trying to unravel the complexities of Galactic tech to neuter the effect of immersion.

The story could be read as an allegory of US influence on the modern world, the (possibly unthinking) extension of its ways and attitudes onto other cultures. Equally valid is the view it is about addiction (in this case to immersion) or even submersion. The immerser acts as a kind of hijab, hiding its wearer behind a persona. In the process it removes some of the personality it covers.

Doubts concern the mechanics of the story and the relationships within it, examination of which makes it, in the end, unconvincing.

There was a strange usage (late minute revisions) and a typo (it wasn’t where Quy’s had last left it.)

Song Of The Body Cartographer By Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Philipine Genre Stories)

Among a set of creatures known as Timor’an, Siren is a body cartographer tasked with examining her lover Inyanna’s body map to find the reason for her inability to fly with a windbeast. And then to carry out the repair work which might mean Inyanna will leave her forever. Told in third person from Siren’s viewpoint this is a simple love story with an unusual setting.

The reading experience is marred by a few infelicities (dispair, a simply relocation) plus some misplaced commas.

The Flight of the Ravens by Chris Butler (Immersion Press)

This is a novella rather than a short story. Set mainly in Amsterdam in 1889, with excursions to Vienna and Frankfurt and also to the Amsterdam of 1452, it starts with two children entering a house and encountering an old man and a vortex which absorbs one of them. The remainder works through the ramifications of this for the girl, Elizabeth, and the father of the boy, Huginn Raaf, who form a compact to try to prevent a reoccurrence of the tragedy. The narrative features a fire giant confined within the vortex and a rather unconvincing Sigmund Freud whom, under Huginn’s prompting, Elizabeth consults. The ravens of the title are Odin’s companions, Muninn and Huginn. (Yes.) The characters don’t come to life and Butler’s use of words is occasionally awkward while his adoption of viewpoint within a scene can be too diagrammatic -“This was it then,” when we reach the climax? Otherwise the text was clean. To my mind this is a fantasy story, and not SF.

Limited Edition by Tim Maughan (1.3, Arc Magazine)

In an intensely surveilled society – an exaggerated version of our consumer driven one – a new type of must-have trainers which make stuff appear round them every time thee touch the ground is advertised on to the spex people wear. On spex, ))blink((ing takes the place of mouse clicking on a computer. Cash-starved Grids and his mates decide to raid the shop the trainers will be sold in to get themselves the shoes. The narrative is interspersed occasionally with Twitter style comments from the affluent or deprived commenting on the proceedings as they unfold.

The characters speak in a demotic that attempts to be futuristic or “street.” The twist, when it comes, is not really surprising.

There were two grammatical oddities. “Him and College look skyward.” “His clothes is splattered.”

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville (Rejectamentalist Manifesto)

This is an extremely short piece (550 words or so) featuring the extension of marketing into warfare and (here) demolition projects. Logos appear in the explosion remnants. Its main thrust, though, deals with people who use a time-dilating drug to climb and descend the building as it collapses in what would be the most extreme of sports. It did contain, though, an irritating overuse of “&” instead of “and.”

Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)

My (extended) thoughts on this are here.
The more remote from it I get the better this story lies in my memory.

Locus 21st Century Poll (Fantasy)

And here is the Locus 21st Century poll for fantasy

1 Gaiman, Neil : American Gods (2001)
2* Clarke, Susanna : Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)
3 Rothfuss, Patrick : The Name of the Wind (2007)
4* Miéville, China : The Scar (2002)
5* Martin, George R. R. : A Feast for Crows (2005)
6 Rowling, J. K. : Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
7 Bujold, Lois McMaster : The Curse of Chalion (2001)
8* Miéville, China : The City & the City (2009)
9 Fforde, Jasper : The Eyre Affair (2001)
10 Bujold, Lois McMaster : Paladin of Souls (2003)
10 Pratchett, Terry : Night Watch (2002)
12 Gaiman, Neil : Coraline (2002)
13 Wolfe, Gene : The Wizard Knight (2004)
14 Pratchett, Terry : Going Postal (2004)
15= Gaiman, Neil : The Graveyard Book (2008)
15= Lynch, Scott : The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)

I have read only four here – and two by the same author. Notably one of these made it onto the SF list as well, which shows how hard differentiating SF from Fantasy can be. (The only one that I’ve not read which I might look out for is the Wolfe.)

Locus 21st Century Poll

Following on from the Locus 20th century polls I posted about a few days ago this is their list for SF novels published from 2000 on.

1 Scalzi, John : Old Man’€™s War (2005)
2 Stephenson, Neal : Anathem (2008)
3* Bacigalupi, Paolo : The Windup Girl (2009)
4 Wilson, Robert Charles : Spin (2005)
5 Watts, Peter : Blindsight (2006)
6* Morgan, Richard : Altered Carbon (2002)
7 Collins, Suzanne : The Hunger Games (2008)
8 Gibson, William : Pattern Recognition (2003)
9* Miéville, China : The City & the City (2009)
10 Stross, Charles : Accelerando (2005)
11* Mitchell, David : Cloud Atlas (2004)
12* McDonald, Ian : River of Gods (2004)
13 McCarthy, Cormac : The Road (2006)
14* Harrison, M. John : Light (2002)
15= Willis, Connie : Black Out/All Clear (2010)
15=* Chabon, Michael : The Yiddish Policemen’€™s Union (2007)

7 out of 16. I’m obviously not keeping up with modern SF.

Locus Poll (Fantasy)

That same Locus Poll also listed the top 15 Fantasy novels from last century.

Again asterisked means I’ve read them, ** that I can’t remember and (*) only the first of the trilogy.

1(*) Tolkien, J. R. R. : The Lord of the Rings (1955)
2* Martin, George R. R. : A Game of Thrones (1996)
3 Tolkien, J. R. R. : The Hobbit (1937)
4* Le Guin, Ursula K. : A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
5* Zelazny, Roger : Nine Princes in Amber (1970) 971 70
6 Lewis, C. S. : The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
7* Miéville, China : Perdido Street Station (2000)
8 Rowling, J. K. : Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
9* Crowley, John : Little, Big (1981)
10* Adams, Richard : Watership Down (1972)
11 Goldman, William : The Princess Bride (1973)
12* Martin, George R. R. : A Storm of Swords (2000)
13 Beagle, Peter S. : The Last Unicorn (1968)
14** White, T. H. : The Once and Future King (1958)
15 Pratchett, Terry (& Gaiman, Neil) : Good Omens (1990)

I don’t have quite such a high hit rate here – unsurprisingly, as I prefer Science Fiction to Fantasy: but there is of course a lot of crossover between the two and the boundary is blurred. Even so I would have said Perdido Street Station was SF rather than Fantasy.

BSFA Awards 2012

The BSFA Award shortlist for stories published in 2012 has been announced.

For best novel we have:-

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus)

Empty Space: a Haunting by M. John Harrison (Gollancz)

Intrusion by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)

Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit.)

Unusually I have read three out of the five already, two of those courtesy of Interzone and its kind reviews editor. Thank you, Jim.

My views on 2312 I posted on this blog only two days ago. Those on Empty Space will be forthcoming.

Intrusion I reviewed here.

As for the short stories I have read only one of them so far, the last on this list; and very good it was too.

Three others, though, are available to read on the net. Doubtless the BSFA will be producing its usual booklet.

Immersion by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld no. 69)

The Flight of the Ravens by Chris Butler (Immersion Press)

Song of the body Cartographer by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Phillipines Genre Stories)

Limited Edition by Tim Maughan (1.3, Arc Magazine)

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville (Rejectamentalist Manifesto)

Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)

Looking for Jake by China Miéville

Pan, 2006, 307p.

Looking For Jake cover

This is a collection of Miéville’€™s shorter fiction culled from various previous publications, with some original to this book.

Looking for Jake. After an unspecified disaster has depopulated London an unnamed narrator goes looking for his missing friend Jake. The very Art Deco Gaumont State cinema in Kilburn is given several mentions and an image of it appears on the book’s cover. See also the picture at the end of this post.

In Foundation a First Gulf War veteran haunted by his experiences there is known as a house whisperer because he talks to buildings. Their foundations talk back.

The Ball Room, a story written along with Emma Bircham and Max Schaefer, has the eponymous play area of a furniture warehouse not entirely dissimilar from IKEA cause its clientele to experience strange and compulsive goings on.

Reports of Certain Events in London is a typographical riot of fonts, scripts, reports, “handwritten”€ letters, interpolations and transcribed pamphlets and employs an unusual framing device. Narrator “€œChina Miéville” inadvertently opens a package delivered to his address but intended for a Charles Melville and finds himself fascinated by the contents – the proceedings of a group devoted to tracking the shifting location of, and combats between, London’€™s feral houses.

Familiar has a witch making a familiar out of a mixture of his own body fluids. It disgusts him and he gets rid of it but it comes back to haunt him. Ho-hum.

Entry Taken From a Medical Encyclopædia is errr…. an entry from a medical encyclopædia. Complete with footnotes and references. The infection described is caused by pronouncing a word in a certain way, which thus propagates itself in the victim’s brain.

In Details a young boy takes food every week from his mother to an old woman who keeps herself close, in the dark, barely opening her door before snatching the food, closing it again and getting him to read to her. She once saw something nasty, not in the woodshed, but in the details of a brick wall. She has been hiding from the patterns out to get her ever since.

Go Between sees a man receive from a mysterious organisation messages concealed inside his purchases. He fails to deliver the final one and wonders if he did the right thing.

An old man buys himself a seventieth birthday present, an old window with stained glass. He discovers he can see Different Skies through it, but there are potential horrors on the other side.

An End to Hunger has a genius computer programmer infuriated by the eponymous charity’€™s campaign. He works to expose its sponsors’ hypocrisies. They don’€™t like it.

In ‘€˜Tis the Season Christmas and its accompanying paraphernalia have been privatized. Yuleco owns the rights and so ChristmasTM, SantaTM, MistletoeTM, RudolphTM etc are all under licence – even tinsel is illegal without one, never mind a tree. An unnamed father has won a prize to Yuleco’s official party. On the way there he and his daughter get caught up in the anti-privatisation protests. Slight, in a fun way. I just hope it doesn’€™t give anybody in power any ideas.

Jack in Miéville€’s city of New Crobuzon, familiar from Perdido Street Station and The Scar, is a Remade. Altered as a punishment – feathered wings for arms or oily gears for innards and skin changed, or otherwise bizarrely surgically changed – Remades are looked down upon by the “normal”€ citizens. Jack Half-A-Prayer fights the system, standing up for the underprivileged. The city can tolerate so much as a release valve – but Jack goes too far.

On The Way To The Front is a graphic short story illustrated by Liam Sharp which would take longer to describe than it did to read. The reproduction is in black ink and might have benefited from colour (which would obviously have been too expensive.)

The Tain is much the longest story in the collection, a novella set in the aftermath of Earth’s invasion by the creatures who live behind mirrors, the Tain of the title. A Londoner is strangely immune to their attentions and sets out to parley with their leader. One of the Tain is also a viewpoint character. Not your usual alien encounter story.

While not every story hits the mark, as a whole the collection illustrates Miéville’€™s range and writing ability. It also highlights his fascination with London and his recurring theme of otherness, the not-quite-identical.

And here is the majestic (in that monolithic, Stalinist kind of way) Gaumont State Cinema.

Gaumont State Cinema

Current Reading

I have temporarily stopped reading Looking For Jake by China Miéville about halfway through to concentrate on my latest Interzone review (of Empty Space by M John Harrison) in order to have plenty of time to get the review done.

I’ll be getting back to Looking For Jake in due course.

Clarke Award Stushie*

It seems Christopher Priest, whose BSFA Award listed novel The Islanders I am reading as we speak (or read, or converse, or whatever-the-hell-it-is-we-do-on-the-internet,) has attacked this year’s Clarke Award shortlist.

Go on. Read it. It’s an entertaining rant however unfortunately open to the charge of sour grapes at not himself being on the Clarke list it may be. (Priest tries to cover this angle by saying he would withdraw his novel from any consideration if the Clarke list were to be rethought as he proposes.)

I would insert the turbulent Priest joke here but someone used it decades ago in one of the BSFA’s journals and I actually think Priest has a point. Perhaps several.

My impression of the BSFA shortlist novels I have read is that last year wasn’t a particularly good one for SF novels – though my sample is admittedly small. And I agree that to have China Miéville win the Clarke Award for a fourth time would suggest that no-one else need bother writing SF (nor fantasy) as we could all then give up and go home.

I disagree, though, with his interim assessment of Adam Roberts’s By Light Alone. See my review here.

Charles Stross (whom Priest castigates in his piece) has linked to a comment thread engendered by Priest’s rant and has also seized upon the criticism as a marketing opportunity (see link to Stross’s post.)

Among other things Priest complains Stross writes “och-aye” dialogue. “Och-aye” dialogue. What’s wrong with that? People do not necessarily speak RP, or estuary, or USian, now or in the future. Get over it.

By the way, I used to receive a yearly invitation to the Clarke Award do but I could never go – it’s in London and I always had work that day and the next. Those invitations dried up some while ago now, though.

*Stushie is a Scottish word for contretemps.
stushie [ˈstʊʃɪ], stishie, stashie
n Scot
1. a commotion, rumpus, or row
2. a state of excitement or anxiety; a tizzy. Also spelled stooshie, stoushie.

Clarke Award Shortlist

The Clarke Award (named obviously for British SF pioneer Arthur C Clarke) is an annual award for the best SF novel of the year. It’s fair to say its choices lean towards the literary end of the SF spectrum and its shortlist usually provides a marked contrast to the BSFA Award.

This year’s shortlist – for novels published in 2011 – is here and is reproduced below:-

Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three (Gollancz)
Drew Magary, The End Specialist (Harper Voyager)
China Miéville, Embassytown (Macmillan)
Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
Charles Stross, Rule 34 (Orbit)
Sheri S.Tepper, The Waters Rising (Gollancz)

Of these I have read only Chinatown. (Edited to add:- I meant Embassytown.)

Compare and contrast the BSFA Award list:-

Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith (Newcon Press)

Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan)

The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)

By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

My strike rate here is higher; the Miéville, the Roberts and (currently reading) the Priest.

BSFA Awards Short Stories

Over the past few weeks I have read the short stories nominated for this year’s BSFA Awards. I am assuming that, as in the past couple of years, the BSFA will be producing a booklet containing them but since each has been posted on the internet (there is a link from the BSFA’s Awards page to the online versions which is how I managed to read them – though I found off a screen is not the most comfortable of ways to do so) perhaps that might not happen.

The Silver Wind by Nina Allan, from Interzone issue 233, is a kind of time-travel story mixed with parallel worlds. It tells of the encounter of a man from a fascistic future Britain with a genius who makes clocks (which he refers to as time machines.) To begin with there is too much info dumping and throughout a lot is told rather than shown. Perhaps the story needed more space to breathe but I felt the sureness of touch of an accomplished story teller was missing. There is a use of words that is not quite precise – eg “hoping one soldier would not see me” rather than “hoping none of the soldiers would see me” – and twice we are treated to the peculiar phrase, “It was growing dusk,” but at least Allan knows the use of “nor” as in, “not for love nor money nor any of these new-fangled gadgets.”

The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell, from Asimov’s, July2011, is set in an altered future where European monarchies strive to keep the balance of power throughout the Solar System, souls have weight that is aligned to dark matter and Newton came up with a kind of relativity theory which allows space to be folded – all amenable to a tale of espionage and derring-do admixed with betrayals of various sorts. This stretches suspension of disbelief at times but overflows with ideas and is excellently written.

Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley, from Kameron Hurley’s website, is about a woman in a backward-leaning religious society which is engaged in a never-ending war, whose rulers have deliberately cut it off from the stars – originally as an escape from whatever’s out there but now to prosecute the war better. In her forbidden astronomical observations she finds God in a torn filter laid across the night sky. Again there is a fair bit of info dumping – perhaps inevitable in stories of short length.

Covehithe by China Miéville, from The Guardian, 20/4/11, features sunken oil-rigs returning to land to drill into the earth and lay – eggs? seeds? – from which smaller rigs later emerge. Atmospheric, but again info-dumpy. The human involvement in Covehithe – a father and his daughter observing one such landing – doesn’t really overlap with the SF background. Another scenario where society has suffered extreme breakdown and the military has a strong presence.

Of Dawn by Al Robertson, from Interzone 235, has a woman whose soldier brother has been killed being inspired by his poetry, the music of a long neglected composer, an all but forgotten TV documentary and a figure from Greek myth to produce a synthesis of poetry and music by bringing all those strands together. The final part of the jigsaw is provided by a shadowy figure in a village commandeered by the army long ago, but which had inspired both poet and musician. The story contains echoes of the Green Man myth and illustrates that English fascination with the pastoral. The info dumping here is well embedded.

The futures shown by the five stories are all bleak, having in common repressive regimes of either military or religious stamp. SF is never about the future, though. These stories tell us a lot about where we are now.

As stories though, rounded works of fiction, I found most of them unsatisfying. The only truly successful one was Paul Cornell’s. If these represent the best of last year the SF short story is in a bad way.

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