Iâve now read four of the five short-listed novels â the first time Iâve ever managed such a feat before the vote. While it is so much easier to find books in these internet days I did make a conscious effort this time. My reviews of these five are in the previous post plus here, here and here. Itâs probably the one Iâve missed (Zoo City by Lauren Beukes) that will win now.
The nominations for Best Art are to my mind profoundly uninspiring except perhaps the spaceship by Andy Bigwood on the cover of Conflicts.
As to the short stories: the BSFA booklet has been devoured and here are my thoughts.
Flying In The Face Of God by Nina Allan.
The Kushnev drain is a(n unexplained) treatment that allows deep space expeditions to be undertaken more easily. Viewpoint character Anita, a film-maker whose mother was murdered in an anti-space-exploration terrorist attack when she was months old, is in love with Rachel, a recipient of the Kushnev drain who is about to set off into space. Rachelâs boyfriend, Serge, has moved on already.
The Science Fiction in this story is peripheral, being only the mentions of the Kushnev drain and space travel. Apart from that itâs â¦ well, nothing much really.
At the level of the writing, an apparent change of viewpoint character in paragraph 1 (and 2) brought me to a shuddering stop in paragraph 3. Throughout, there is a high degree of info dumping. Tenses within the flashbacks are not precise enough making keeping track of things difficult. Anitaâs grandmother features for no good plot reason that I could see. None of the characters displays much psychological depth.
As a result I found this story to be a bit incoherent. And nothing happens.
The Shipmaker by Aliette De Bodard
In a Chinese dominated future culture the shipmaker of the title is in charge of designing a spaceship â on principles that appear to relate to or derive from feng shui. The ship is to be piloted by a flesh and electronic hybrid Mind, gestated in the womb of a volunteer, the mechanics of which process are not laid out. The birth-mother turns up early and throws the delicately balanced design process into confusion. The culture is sketched efficiently and the charactersâ problems are believable enough.
This is a proper story with forward movement and motivated characters but with an ending that is perhaps too glib.
The Things by Peter Watts
This story is told from the point of view of an alien, who has always heretofore been able to meld with and assimilate to other lifeforms, and is capable of warding off entropy. The creatureâs offshoots have survived a crash and are trying to come to communion with the human members of an Antarctic expedition who come to realise its presence and resist it. Its gradual understanding of the singular nature of human existence, that we have brains – which it regards as a form of cancer â that we die; is well handled.
Again, this is a story, but due to its nature the humans it depicts are never more than names. The alien, however, is as real as you could wish. The last sentence is a little intense, though, not to say unsavoury.
Arrhythmia by Neil Williamson
In a Britain which is reminiscent of the early- to mid-20th century with concomitant working practices and social attitudes yet still has room for Top Of The Pops, Steve whiles away his days at the factory and yearns for the company of Sandra, who is sometimes assigned to work alongside him.
The factory runs to the tune of the Governor. Literally. The assembly line moves in time with piped music â as if Music While You Work was a control mechanism. In fact so suffused with music is this story it even begins with an anacrusis.
The key event is when Sandra gives Steve a copy of a vinyl single by the singer Arrythmia, whose iconoclastic attitude encourages rebelliousness.
As I almost said in my review of the anthology it came from, Music For Another World, this story could perhaps have been titled 1984: The Musical. Arrythmia doesnât suffer too much by that comparison.