Glittering Prizes

I'm writing in the hungover aftermath of the UK national SF convention that's held on each Easter holiday weekend. This is the time of the year when the awards season gets into its full swing. I felt extremely smug to carry off a British SF Association Award in the nonfiction category, for my learned introduction to Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek. Whoopee! Pity that Big Engine, the small press that published Maps, had declared insolvency shortly before ...

Also at the Eastercon, M. John Harrison was presented with the Tiptree Award for Light, his very strange mix of far-out space opera with contemporary urban horror. The ceremony for this "gender-bending SF" award was likewise peculiar, since the organisers are determined not to take themselves too seriously. Chanting cheerleaders (I was the one who kept falling off the back of the stage) saluted the triumphant "H-A-Double R-I-S-O-N", who was then crowned with a rather fetching tiara that he had to wear all evening. If only all award ceremonies were that much fun.

Meanwhile, the BSFA novel award went to Christopher Priest's wonderfully tricky alternate history The Separation. Harrison's Light was also shortlisted for this one, along with Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Effendi, Gwyneth Jones's Castles Made of Sand, China Miéville's The Scar, and Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt.

Naturally enough, standout books tend to appear on multiple shortlists. The Arthur C. Clarke Award – winner still undecided as I write – again features Light, The Scar, The Separation and The Years of Rice and Salt, plus David Brin's Kil'n People and Elizabeth Moon's Speed of Dark.

Light and The Separation haven't appeared in the USA, alas, being apparently "too British". For example, Priest's alternate World War II barely mentions American involvement, which in certain US circles is definitely a no-no. So these two had little chance at the latest Hugo Award for best novel, whose already-mentioned contenders are Kiln People (David Brin's title mysteriously gained an apostrophe in its UK edition, no one quite knows why), The Scar and The Years of Rice and Salt. Additionally there's Michael Swanwick's Bones of the Earth – which was also shortlisted for the Nebula – and Robert J.Sawyer's Hominids.

Rules are different in the world of the Nebula awards voted by the SF Writers of America. Jaundiced observers have been known to complain that Nebula shortlists can feature undistinguished writers who loom large in SFWA's internal politics. Also the eligibility period is unusual. This year's Nebula novel winner, Neil Gaiman's fine American Gods, won the Hugo last year. Its Nebula rivals in 2003 included China Miéville's Perdido Street Station, winner of the Clarke award way back in 2001 and a Hugo nominee in 2002. Strange are the ways of SFWA.

Neil Gaiman, by the way, is enjoying a well-deserved good year because his dark fantasy Coraline, published as a children's book, is short enough not to qualify as a novel (where the competition is toughest). So it won the BSFA shorter-fiction category and is a hot favourite for the Hugo as best novella. Next year, the Nebula? Nothing like having a second bite at the cherry.

China Miéville, who is also getting a lot of mentions this month, received a "special citation" for The Scar from the judges of the Philip K. Dick Award – but the winner was the venerable Carol Emshwiller's The Mount.

Then there are more specialist SF prizes, like the Prometheus, given for "libertarian" novels. The current list includes Dark Light by our very own Ken MacLeod, who has already won this award a couple of times; Greg Egan's wildly ambitious Schild's Ladder; and – unusually, because his enormous sales rarely translate into literary honours – Terry Pratchett's Discworld epic Night Watch. Also listed: J.Neil Schulman's Escape from Heaven and F. Paul Wilson's The Haunted Air, about which I know nothing.

Of course different authors and titles tend to crop up in the World Fantasy Awards (2003 shortlist not yet announced), although there is some overlap: Ursula Le Guin won the WFA last year with her Earthsea fantasy The Other Wind, which was also on this year's Nebula shortlist, and Christopher Priest won a few years ago for his SF novel of Victorian stage magic, The Prestige.

The British and World Fantasy Awards also cover the horror genre, which has its own specialist equivalents of the Hugos and their rivals. The Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild awards naturally feature Stephen King's From a Buick 8 in both their novel shortlists. Also the Stoker "younger readers" category pits Clive Barker's Abarat against – yet again – Coraline. Only one can win a Stoker, but the IHG awards place Coraline in "Long Form" (not quite novel length) and Abarat in "Graphic Narrative" (lots of pictures).

Indeed, there's just no space to list all the awards and award nominations generated by SF and its sister genres every year. The Hugos alone have thirteen categories in 2003, with five nominations in each. At first glance it seems amazing that anything at all can escape being shortlisted for some honour ...

David Langford is of course gloating over his own two Hugo nominations this year – though as usual they're not for fiction.