BSFA Awards 2010

The ballot paper for this year’s awards is due to be completed before or at Eastercon. I’ll not be attending so I’ll need to email my votes. My thoughts on the fiction nominations that I have read are below.

Best Novel
Ark by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz) Not read by me.
Lavinia by Ursula K Le Guin (Gollancz) Not read by me.
The City & The City by China Mieville (Macmillan) See my review here.
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts (Gollancz) Not read by me.

I bow to no-one in my admiration for Ursula Le Guin’s writing but I am slightly puzzled as to why Lavinia is on this list. As I understood it the book is a historical novel with no speculative content. If so, why it should be on the ballot for the British Science Fiction Association Awards?

Best Short Fiction

I was hoping to receive a booklet with all the short stories in it in my spring BSFA mailing, as we members did last year, but the package hasn’t arrived yet so I resorted to the internet to read most of the candidates. Links can be found on the page where the shortlists appear.

1. “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster
This one is very Science Fictional with a first person present tense narration. It depicts a society where people must choose a mask every morning. To be unmasked is a crime. The mask imprints them with a personality for the day which may mean a pleasurable or painful experience results. One day our unnamed narrator meets someone who unmasks both herself and him.
All the characters are unnamed; only the queen who set up and directs the system (and is clearly inspired by the bee genus) has a designation.
I might add this story has an unusual solution to the problems inherent in info dumping.
Interesting but violent.
It has echoes of last year’s winner Exhalation so may be one to watch.

2. The Push by Dave Hutchinson (Not on internet? Unread.)

3. Johnnie and Emmie-Lou Get Married by Kim Lakin-Smith
The story is a reworking of Romeo and Juliet (or, given the gang background, West Side Story) with a scenario reminiscent of the car race from Grease or even The Phantom Menace. I was also reminded of Roger Zelazny’s Deadboy Donner And The Filstone Cup (1988.)
The language contains a strange cross-Atlantic mixture and other infelicities. Lakin-Smith uses “arse” not “ass” but “dove” not “dived” and surely could have found a better verb than “splurged” for an exhaust emission. She also unfortunately has a car “loose” momentum as if it can set that quantity free, plus there is a “span” count of one.
This is readable but inconsequential.

4. Vishnu at the Cat Circus by Ian McDonald. (Not on internet? Read from the collection Cyberabad Days.)
This reminded me more than a little of Midnight’s Children. But it’s a Midnight’s Children hyped up on steroids, overdosed on speed and LSD. Told in McDonald’s trade mark pyrotechnic prose it is the life story of Vishnu, a gene-enhanced Brahmin (see his novel River Of Gods,) who ages at half the pace of normal humans. It traces his arc from harbinger of the future to obsolescence and the getting of wisdom of sorts, all mixed up with a compelling depiction of a future India and replete with AIs, other universes and picotechnology. The Paul Daniels allusion and the reference to a Goodness Gracious Me sketch may be over the top for some but I was amused – and the second was justified by the subject matter.

5. The Beloved Time of Their Lives by Ian Watson and Roberto Quaglia
An unusual story of undying love transcending the boundaries of time.
Jonathan meets the love of his life, a physicist, in her old age. When she dies in his arms he resolves to investigate time and eventually uses the somewhat unorthodox medium of a McDonalds to travel back in time to meet her in her youth. The story is light hearted but contains a degree of amusing speculation. Unfortunately it is slightly marred by being told to us rather than unfolded for us.

6. The Assistant by Ian Whates
This story is about a chief cleaner whose company keeps their client’s building free from infestation by microbots and regenerating moulds and other Science Fictional whatnot. The latest attack weapons turn out to be powered by a strange source.
Conventionally told in the first person this is unusual SF in that it focuses on humble workers rather than on innovators or inventors or explorers.

To pick one of these is like choosing between sellotape, string, glue and Blu-Tack. They all hold stuff together but in different ways; for different purposes.
Vishnu at the Cat Circus is the most ambitious – but it has room to be. The others are shorts. Vishnu is a novella. This argues for the BSFA to split its short story category like the Hugos do. I believe the difficulty here, since the BSFA membership is relatively small, might be there may not be enough nominations for this to be practicable.

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