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BSFA Awards 2017

BSFA Awards 2017 booklet cover

Short fiction nominees:-
The Enclave1 by Anne Charnock (NewCon Press, Feb 2017) is not obviously Science Fiction. Written well enough, it focuses on Caleb, a refugee seemingly from Spain but it could be further south, at a time when the world seems to have global warmed. It has some echoes of Oliver Twist as Caleb is variously exploited and learns to trust no-one. The titular enclave lies somewhere near Manchester.
In These Constellations Will Be Yours by Elaine Cuyegkeng (Strange Horizons, 7/8/17) oraculos from the planet Buyin have enabled much swifter interstellar travel at the cost of having their backs opened, spines, brains and nervous systems attached to the galleon-ships which ply the celestial sea. Some avoid this fate by paying to opt out. There is a revolt.
Uncanny Valley2 by Greg Egan (Tor.com, 9/8/17) is an extract only. The full text is available online but I dislike reading fiction from a screen so this one page sample had to do and was consequently hard to adjudge.
Angular Size3 by Geoff Nelder ( SFerics, 2017) is in the tradition of the big dumb object story, or, in this case, the maybe not quite so big as something the apparent size of the moon but only detectable in the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum suddenly appears in the solar system. However it may be as small as a button but, more importantly, a precursor to alien invasion.
The Murders of Molly Southborne4 by Tade Thompson (Tor.com publishing) is also an extract, two pages this time; too short an extract to appraise properly.

In the non-fiction items the extract from Modern Masters of Science Fiction: Iain M Banksa by Paul Kincaid is mainly about Feersum Endjinn, Whit, A Song of Stone and Excession.
Juliet E McKenna’s The Myth of Meritocracy and the Reality of the Leaky Pipe and other Obstacles in Science Fiction and Fantasyb examines the ways in which women are undervalued in and marginalised from SF.
There is an extract from Wells at the World’s Endb by Adam Roberts in which he looks at The Invisible Man.
Various contributors consider The 2017 Shadow Clarke Awardsc.
The Unthinkability of Climate Change: Thoughts on Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Great Derangement’d by Vandana Singh deals with the unwillingness of people to think about climate change.

Pedant’s corner (fiction):- 1focussed (focused,) sat (sitting,) “no sense of daring-do” (it’s derring-do.) 2a stationers (stationer’s.) 3”they might consider humanity are a scourge on the planet” (is a scourge,) miniscule (minuscule,) focussed (focused,) “‘The White House are having kittens’” (is having,) “‘take it Edwards’” (take it to Edwards,) “‘it’s slowing down but still heading for the Moon’” (unless it was very close to the Moon already, not in any trajectory I’ve ever heard of.) 4feces (faeces.)
(Non-fiction):- ain a passage about Banks’s prefiguring of txt spk, “duz she 1/2 a naim” (I read that as one/two, not ½,) rumor and center (in a British piece about a British writer! Rumour and centre, please.) bCandaules’ (Candaules’s, yet we have Wells’s and Griffins’s,) “to talk an individual caught up in … is to describes” (to talk of an individual… is to describe,) “as good as stopping photons” (as good at stopping.) b”which that presenting evidence” (which presenting that evidence,) practise (practice,) selfevidently (self evidently.) c”as a third wave of riots break out” (a wave breaks out.) dCO2 (CO2.)

BSFA Awards for 2017

This year’s BSFA Awards (for works published last year) were announced at Eastercon on Saturday 31st March.

The winners were:-

Best novel: The Rift by Nina Allan

Best Short Fiction: The Enclave by Anne Charnock

Best Non-fiction: Paul Kincaid for Iain M Banks

The Best Artwork Award: was shared between Jim Burns and Victo Ngai

BSFA Awards Booklet Arrives

The BSFA’s annual booklet containing the nominees for the various awards for 2017 publications arrived on Thursday morning 29th Mar.

BSFA Award Booklet 2017

The deadline for postal votes is (was!) Mon 26th Mar and for electronic submissions Wed 28th Mar. The results will be announced on Saturday 31st Mar.

Not the BSFA’s fault it arrived late. Easter is about as early as it can be this year and there was precious little time between the close of the submission phase for the final nominations and Easter. They’ve done well to get it out at all.

Just as well I’m going to Eastercon this year where I can vote in person.

I’ve got my work cut out to read it all before then though.

My (belated) thoughts on its contents will appear next week.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hamish Hamilton, 2017, 233 p. Another of the novels on this year’s BSFA Award shortlist.

 Exit West cover

In an unnamed Middle-Eastern city on the threshold of becoming embroiled in an insurrection, Saeed and Nadia meet while attending evening class. Despite wearing a black robe that covers her from toe to neck she tells him, “I don’t pray,” and on their first coffee together answers his question about the reason for her attire by saying, “So men don’t fuck with me.” As their relationship develops mysterious black doors are meanwhile beginning to appear at various locations on Earth, allowing people to move from place to place without traversing the ground, air, or sea between.

The relationship between Seed and Nadia becomes closer but when given the opportunity Saeed says he doesn’t want to have sex till they are married. Nadia’s response is pithy. To have Nadia as the less repressed of the two (she was independent enough to live in her own flat and had taken a previous lover,) to be the unreligious one of the pair, is a neat touch by Hamid. History has its own way with them, though, as the insurgents take over the city and life becomes repressive and dangerous. On Saeed’s mother’s death Nadia moves into his family’s apartment. They keep a fake marriage certificate in case of inquiries.

The militants are only ever in the background – though they do give Hamid the chance to convey the flavour of their impact – but they provide the impulse for our lovers to take a chance on escaping via a black door. The doors are essentially a fantasy element. How they work is never gone into, they just appear and do their, effectively magical, work.

Nadia and Saeed first alight on the Greek island of Mykonos, confined to a refugee camp, then later another door transports them to a plush but otherwise unoccupied London flat. Soon the flat fills up with more migrants through the door, unrest at the incomers builds up in the UK and the neighbourhood becomes ghettoised and a microcosm of the wider immigrant experience.

It is perhaps a flaw that Hamid doesn’t quite fully explore this strange new world where borders have been for all practical purposes abolished – and I suspect he is far too sanguine about the political accommodation the British state makes with the migrants, one which, in any case Saeed and Nadia eschew by taking another door to the US. Hamid’s main interest lies in portraying the migrant experience through the arc of Nadia and Saeed’s love affair, the strains their uncertain existence puts on the relationship between. Hamid also does a lot of telling rather than showing, but that is not uncommon among writers more celebrated than he is.

Hamid makes the point that migration is a trauma for the individual, “When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind,” and that, “We are all children who lose our parents ….. and we too will be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity.” Then again, “Everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.” (This is why nostalgia, a yearning for a lost golden age, is such a pernicious emotion.)

Despite Exit West’s nomination for the BSFA Award, nothing in Hamid’s treatment betokens Science Fiction. This is really a mainstream novel (albeit a good mainstream novel) with an SF idea bolted on. The black doors are not necessary for the plot to work and the implications of easier transit between countries are rather skated over.

All three nominees I’ve read so far are lacking in some regards. I really don’t know which novel to place first; only the one I won’t.

Pedant’s corner:- legs akimbo (legs cannot be placed on hips; at least not on the same body’s hips,) fit (fitted.)

The Rift by Nina Allan

Titan Books, 2017, 421 p. One of the novels on this year’s BSFA Award shortlist.

 The Rift cover

In 1994, when she was fifteen, Selena Rouane’s two years’ older sister Julie disappeared, an event which has haunted the family ever since. Years later, after Selena has had an on-off relationship with Johnny, who occasionally phones her from Malaysia where lay the job opportunity she ushered him off to, Julie returns to her life saying that in the interim she had been living on the planet Tristane in the Suur system, in the Aww galaxy. No mechanism is described for this. It just happened to her, as if by magic. Neither is there a description of how she managed to get back. Selena is convinced by her story, especially as Julie remembers a particular childhood toy, but their mother is not.

The Rift is oddly constructed. Most of the narration is from Selena’s viewpoint but other perspectives are introduced from time to time to broaden out the story Allan has to tell. We have diary extracts (and one from a terrestrial novel,) newspaper clippings, and a scientific report. In Selena’s recollections of the time of Julie’s disappearance the sections can read like a YA novel. At other times a fairly prosaic mainstream one.

Julie’s knowledge of Tristane’s geography and history as relayed to Selena is derived from the planet’s books, her memories sometimes presented as a gazetteer – akin to Christopher Priest’s The Islanders, only not so comprehensive. (Or did this comparison only come to my mind because of the connection between Allan and Priest?) Some emphasis is laid on a creature known as a creef, a parasite from Tristane’s system companion the planet Dea (once accessible by spaceship, now cut off,) which debilitates its victims from the inside, slowly eroding their mental and physical capabilities as described in a Tristanean novel The Mind-Robbers of Pakwa.

Creef are said to be like a silverfish or centipede. It is here that severe doubts about Julie’s intergalactic voyaging grow on the reader. Would a Tristanean novel really use such Earthbound terms? Then too there are the previous mentions of “Ziploc wallets”; the choice of the name Marillienseet for one of Tristane’s seas and Cally (pronounced Kayleigh) for Julie’s friend in her exile, seemingly pointing to an origin within Julie’s mind, since the band Marillion is referred to several times in the terrestrial sections of the book. Later we find that “centigrade” is the Tristanean unit of temperature. Plus in one of the “gazetteer” extracts Tristane’s main raw material, julippa, is stated to be similar to rubber – surely the entry’s writer would not even have known what rubber is; yet Julie would. And of course the correspondence between “julippa” and “Julie” is marked. None of these is presented as Julie trying to make a terrestrial comparison for the sake of clarity.

An invocation of the fake Grand Duchess Anastasia, Franziska Czenstkowska, otherwise known as Anna Anderson, is another powerful steer towards the possibility that “Julie”’s memories have been constructed from newspaper and other accessible information. The case was a brief media infatuation, as such things are. And what to make of Cally’s statement to Julie, “‘The written word has a closer relationship to memory than with the literal truth, that all truths are questionable, even the larger ones’”?

Allan’s characterisation is good, even the minor players in the story appear as rounded people (though those on Tristane are more barely sketched.) A nod to the importance of reading (and the lack of awareness in ignoring genre?) is given by the sentences, “Categorisation is a kind of brainwashing. How do you know which books will turn out to be important to you, until you’ve encountered them?’ Yet it is a big ask to read this as SF rather than a quotidian novel with SF trappings. Though she clearly feels an affinity with speculative fiction other qualities in Allan’s writing speak more loudly.

Two of the four BSFA Award shortlisted novels down. Two to go. I might not manage one of them though.

Pedant’s corner:- broach (several times; that particular style of jewellery is spelled “brooch”,) “her beside clock radio” (bedside clock radio,) “it still fit” (fitted,) “for not pursing it” (pursuing.) “The southern polar regions …… remains largely unmapped” (regions remain unmapped,) “[its support plinths] are still judged by certain scientists … to be a logistical impossibility” (from a gazetteer extract. Logistics is the art of moving, lodging and supply; the rest of the sentence does not support this meaning. The materials for the construction must have been able to be transported and lodged; that is, supplied. But if this was merely one of Julie’s imaginings Allan may have used the wrong term deliberately,) “the [organic] bond takes place at the sub-atomic level” (how is that possible? Organic bonds occur between atoms,) “on the playground” (the usual expression is “in the playground”,) “in her stocking feet” (it’s “stockinged feet”,) “‘one less thing to worry about’” (was in dialogue, but it still ought to be “fewer”, as it should five lines later, in plain text,) sung (sang.)

BSFA Awards for 2017

The shortlists for the BSFA Awards for last year went live while I was traipsing about down south.

They are:-

Best Novel

Nina Allan – The Rift (Titan Books)

Anne Charnock – Dreams Before the Start of Time (47North)

Mohsin Hamid – Exit West (Hamish Hamilton)

Ann Leckie – Provenance (Orbit)

I have read the Leckie (and will post a review on Saturday.) Two others are in hand.

Best Shorter Fiction

Anne Charnock – The Enclave (NewCon Press)

Elaine Cuyegkeng – These Constellations Will Be Yours (Strange Horizons)

Greg Egan – Uncanny Valley (Tor.com)

Geoff Nelder – Angular Size (in ‘SFerics 2017’ edited by Roz Clarke and Rosie Oliver, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform)

Tade Thompson – The Murders of Molly Southbourne (Tor.com)

I’ve read none of these so far.

Best Non-Fiction

Paul Kincaid – Iain M. Banks (University of Illinois Press)

Juliet E McKenna – The Myth of Meritocracy and the Reality of the Leaky Pipe and Other Obstacles in Science Fiction & Fantasy (in ‘Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction’ edited by Francesca T Barbini, Luna Press)

Adam Roberts – Wells at the World’s End 2017 blog posts (Wells at the World’s End blog)

Shadow Clarke Award jurors – The 2017 Shadow Clarke Award blog (The Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy). The 2017 Shadow Clarke jurors are: Nina Allan, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Victoria Hoyle, Vajra Chandrasekera, Nick Hubble, Paul Kincaid, Jonathan McCalmont, Megan AM.

Vandana Singh – The Unthinkability of Climate Change: Thoughts on Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement (Strange Horizons)

Best Artwork

Geneva Benton – Sundown Towns (cover for Fiyah Magazine #3)

Jim Burns – Cover for ‘The Ion Raider’ by Ian Whates (NewCon Press)

Galen Dara – Illustration for ‘These Constellations Will Be Yours’ by Elaine Cuyegkeng (Strange Horizons)

Chris Moore – Cover for ‘The Memoirist’ by Neil Williamson (NewCon Press)

Victo Ngai – Illustration for ‘Waiting on a Bright Moon’ by JY Yang (Tor.com)

Marcin Wolski – Cover for ‘2084’ edited by George Sandison (Unsung Stories)

BSFA Award Winners

The winnners of this year’s awards (for works published in 2016) have been announced.

Best Novel: Dave Hutchinson – Europe in Winter

Best Shorter Fiction: Jaine Fenn – Liberty Bird (Now We Are Ten, NewCon Press)

Best Non-Fiction: Geoff Ryman – 100 African Writers of SFF (Tor.com)

Best Artwork: Sarah Anne Langton – Cover for Central Station by Lavie Tidhar (Tachyon Publications)

Congratulations to the winners, commiserations to the rest of the nominees.

BSFA Awards Booklet 2016

The End of Hope Street1 by Malcolm Devlin. First published in Interzone 266, Sep-Oct 2016.
This is told in a curiously flat style which seems devoid of any feeling. Without explanation – which makes this fantasy rather than SF – the houses in the cul-de-sac of Hope Street are one by one becoming unliveable, death to anyone inside or who enters thereafter. The survivors are taken in by their neighbours, but matter-of-factly, not compassionately. The end of hope may touch a nerve in these unenlightened times but it’s a depressing philosophy.

Liberty Bird2 by Jaime Fenn. First published in Now We Are Ten, edited by Ian Whates, NewCon Press, July 2016.
The bird of the title is a racing spaceyacht about to take part in a prestigious race and piloted by Kheo Reuthani, scion of an aristocratic house but homosexual in a society which frowns on that – and where some such aristocratic clans have seemingly managed to survive the removal of an Empress from power. The plot hinges on the fact of Kheo’s sexuality being known to his chief engineer. It’s depressing that such repression of sexuality has to be continually commented on. But the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Taking Flight by Una MacCormack. First published in Crisis and Conflicts, edited by Ian Whates, NewCon Press, July 2016.
On reading this I was reminded irresistibly of the style and tonal quality of many of Eric Brown’s SF stories. Our (unnamed) narrator having come to find little satisfaction in the bustle of life in the core worlds remembers an invitation by Eckhart, an acquaintance from her privileged youth in college, to visit him on far-flung backwater Wright’s World. Eckhart appears distracted and fretful but arranges for his friend to travel up-country where the scenery is magnificent, the experience of gliding, on drugs, sublime and the secret of Eckhart’s behaviour is revealed. Apart from a single phrase to do with the passage of time and a slightly weak ending this is pitched perfectly.

Presence3 by Helen Oyeyemi. First published in What is Not Yours is Not Yours, an anthology from Riverhead Books, March 2016.
Jill and Jacob, two psychiatrists married to each other – both not in their first marriage – agree to take part in an experiment to simulate the presences of deceased loved ones some people experience after their bereavement. Jill and Jacob are each to feel the presence of the other but an unexpected different presence intrudes. I found the experience of reading this was marred by no less than 17 unusual hyphenations (pur- pose, drop- ping,) in the middles of lines which may have been a hangover from true line-breaks in the original publication.

The Apologists4 by Tade Thompson. First published in Interzone 266, Sep-Oct 2016.
Somehow in taking over Earth the aliens didn’t realise it was inhabited. Only five humans survive but they don’t get on. They are kept alive and given work designing replacements for everything that was lost. Storm’s project is to design simulant humans, Katrina works on roads, buildings etc. But, as Storm says, “Humanity is defined by imperfections.”

Extract from The Arrival of Missives5 by Aliya Whiteley. First published by Unsung Stories, May 2016.
In the aftermath of the Great War Shirley Fearn conceives a passion for education and war-wounded Mr Tiller, her teacher. She goes to his house to speak to him about it and through the window witnesses something strange. This is well-written but unfortunately the BSFA booklet contains only an extract so it is difficult to assess.

In the non-fiction category, Paul Graham Raven’s essay New Model Authors? Authority, Authordom, Anarchism and the Atomized Text in a Networked World discusses an experimental piece of critical writing on Adam Roberts’s novel New Model Army which had appeared on the internet (and which he had uploaded to his clipping service) but which has now vanished – apparently without trace. Raven’s essay read to me as if it were a piece of fiction.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Lewis’ (Lewis’s,) the both of them (“both of them, or “the pair of them” not “the both of them”,) oblivious of (ignorant of was meant; oblivious means “unaware of”, not “unknowing”,) the community prided themselves (itself,) residents committee (residents’, x4) “there had been only few” (only a few,) “one of its residents found their way” (his, or her, way,) more-so (more so,) a sentence containing only subordinate clauses, may have (might have,) focussing (focusing,) “the neighbourhood fought to free themselves” (strictly, itself,) homeopathic (homoeopathic,) PIN number (PIN – the N already stands for number,) the chemists (the chemist’s.) 2miniscule (minuscule,) “Why were this mismatched pair meeting ..?” (Why was this pair meeting?) “a block of portholes have been elected” (a block has been selected,) seven year ago (years,) a lack of punctuation makes at least two sentences read oddly, publically (publicly,) forbad (forbade,) “‘But not every change is for the worst,’” (worse, I think that would be.) 3stood (standing,) focussed (focused,) four absences of paragraph breaks when a different person is speaking. 4none … yells (fine,) but none … mean anything (means,) none of us remember (remembers,) breathing heavy (heavily,) “I cannot move from the aches and pains” (for the aches and pains,) “I know there is such a thing as odourless solvents” (such things as,) whinging (I prefer whingeing) 5”Those from farming stock can possess…..if he is shown..” (those is plural, therefore, “if they are shown”,) smoothes (smooths,) “there are a handful” (is a handful,) Clemens’ (Clemens’s,) “which decorates the entire of his chest and stomach” (the entire? How about “the entirety” or “the whole”.)

This Year’s BSFA Awards Short Lists

The lists have been published here.

Amazingly, of the best novel list I’ve read four out of the five.

Chris Beckett’s Daughter of Eden, Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Winter, Tricia Sullivan’s Occupy Me and Nick Wood’s Azanian Bridges.

My review of Europe in Winter hasn’t appeared here yet as it only appeared in Interzone a few months ago.

You may wonder why there is also no review of Azanian Bridges on my blog. Well that’s because I did some proof-reading work on it and that exercise is a little different from reading for review purposes.

The only one I haven’t read is A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers and I won’t be. I thought her previous novel was godawful. I can’t see her having improved much.

I don’t have such a good strike record on the shorter works of which I’ve read only the two which appeared in Interzone.

Malcolm Devlin The End of Hope Street (Interzone #266)

Jaine Fenn Liberty Bird (Now We Are Ten, NewCon Press)

Una McCormack Taking Flight (Crises and Conflicts, NewCon Press)

Helen Oyeyemi Presence (What is Not Yours is Not Yours, Picador)

Tade Thompson The Apologists (Interzone #266)

Aliya Whiteley The Arrival of Missives (Unsung Stories)

I look forward to reading these when the usual annual booklet arrives.

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.

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