Rule Britannia

There were scenes of indecent triumphalism at the 2005 British national SF convention, held over Easter. With cunning timing, the organisers of the World Convention – making its once-a-decade UK appearance this August – announced the Hugo award nominations as an Eastercon programme item. Jaws dropped and flabbers were ghasted by the number of Brits on the final ballot, and especially the all-British novel shortlist. This has never happened before.

Certainly British SF has been strong in recent years, but it was still a shock. The Hugo novel finalists are Iain M. Banks's The Algebraist, China Miéville's Iron Council, Charles Stross's Iron Sunrise, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (the token fantasy; in 2001 it was J.K. Rowling) and Ian McDonald's River of Gods. Since the Worldcon has perhaps twice as many North American members as Brits, all five must have attracted a good number of transatlantic votes.

Another surprise is buried in there. The Banks and McDonald books hadn't even appeared in US editions, normally reckoned as absolutely essential for Hugo shortlisting. For some arcane reason – his politics, perhaps – Iain Middleinitial Banks doesn't have megastar status in America, and has shifted uneasily from publisher to publisher. Both The Algebraist and River of Gods are being released over there by relatively small presses, Night Shade and Pyr, rather than major SF imprints.

Our very own Charlie Stross also collected two short fiction nominations for Best Novella. Britain's top SF showcase Interzone and its more offbeat sister magazine The Third Alternative are up for Best Semiprozine, along with my vile gossip-sheet Ansible. (It is, however, traditional for the US newsletter Locus to win this category.) Three British fanzines, Banana Wings, Emerald City and Plokta, are shortlisted for Best Fanzine. We even have a UK nominee in the John W. Campbell award for best new writer: Steph Swainston, author of The Year of Our War.

Best Related Book is a mildly controversial Hugo category because it mixes things like art books, which tend to be popular and to win, with SF criticism and other nonfiction. In this special year, there's a British example in each of those subcategories. The art book is Futures: 50 Years in Space by David A. Hardy and Patrick Moore, which has already got off to a good start by winning one of the Sir Arthur Clarke awards (not to be confused with the Clarke award for best novel) presented on the 60th anniversary of Sir Arthur's 1945 Wireless World article proposing the harebrained notion of communications satellites.

Criticism is represented by Edward James's and Farah Mendlesohn's The Cambridge Companion to SF, published in 2003 but granted a special extension of Hugo eligibility. (Me too, but I didn't make the shortlist.) And for Other Nonfiction there's Peter Weston's fannish autobiography With Stars In My Eyes – which shows the awesome power of this column, since I plugged Peter's book in SFX 125. At last, the man who actually manufactures the famously rocket-shaped Hugo trophies could win one for his own mantelpiece ...

We live in interesting times, and the Hugo presentation in Glasgow is eagerly awaited. Peering prophetically into my crystal ball, I have no hesitation in predicting a British win for Best Novel.

A sad change of subject. The most depressing thing about publishing Ansible is having to chronicle the dead of the SF world, as every month we lose older authors (like Andre Norton this March) and others who went too young (like Jack Chalker in February, aged 60). This time it's a former SFX columnist: Aussie expatriate John Brosnan, in his late fifties, was found dead at home on 11 April 2005.

John was an authority on SF cinema and special effects. He wrote five books about movies, including The Primal Screen: A History of Science Fiction Film (1991), plus most of the film entries in the 1979 Encyclopedia of SF. He also produced many lightweight adventure-SF novels, most recently Mothership in 2004 (sequel due this year). Various revolting horror epics, some written in collaboration, appeared under the tongue-in-cheek pseudonyms Harry Adam Knight and Simon Ian Childer – note the initials. Both in person and in print he was a witty fellow, whose deeply scurrilous fanzine Big Scab tied for the 1974 UK Nova Award. Later I won a Nova myself, with John as one of my role models for writing SF gossip. He should have stayed around longer.

David Langford hopes to [later: and indeed did] meet some of you in Glasgow: see

Also on this site: my reminiscence of John Brosnan's funeral and wake.