All Must Have Prizes

The annual merry-go-round of SF awards began unusually early in 2007, when the Arthur C. Clarke Award organisers invited scores of the usual suspects to a Soho gathering on 20 January, to thank them for support and announce this year's shortlist.

My master plan was to arrive in a state of total sobriety and be alert to every subtle nuance. As usual, the master plan went down in flames when I met various SF authors like Ian Watson, Leigh Kennedy, and Christopher Priest prowling the London streets, and virtuous intentions to patronise Charing Cross Road bookshops got suddenly diverted into pubs and restaurants.

(Where, as always when two or three writers are gathered together, there was much discussion of – in Edward Gorey's immortal words – "disappointing sales, inadequate publicity, worse than inadequate royalties, idiotic or criminal reviews, others' declining talent, and the unspeakable horror of the literary life." But don't let me get distracted.)

The Clarke event itself proved to be awash with free drinks and generally uproarious. It was just as well that, to jog their memory next morning, the off-sober attendees all received press releases listing the 2007 ACCA nominees. These were Jon Courtenay Grimwood's End of the World Blues, M John Harrison's Nova Swing (see my recent SFX review), Lydia Millet's Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, Jan Morris's Hav, Adam Roberts's Gradisil, and Brian Stableford's Streaking. In accordance with an immemorial tradition dating back to Sir Arthur's favourite year 2001, it was also announced that this year's Clarke prize has been boosted to £2007.

Some finalists may not seem obvious SF choices. The ACCA shortlist is selected not by popular vote but by a panel of expert judges who needn't stick to "mainstream SF" like the Grimwood, Harrison and Roberts offerings (all from Gollancz). Stableford's philosophical SF novel – whose title refers to gambling luck rather than running around naked – comes from a small press, PS Publishing. The remaining two weren't published as SF, though Millet's is about three pioneer nuclear physicists brought forward in time from the Manhattan Project to inspect the world of 2003. Morris, best known for travel writing, has updated her 1985 non-fact travel book Last Letters from Hav (which made the Booker Prize shortlist), with a return visit to the imaginary city of Hav.

Who will be revealed as the winner in May? I freely admit that I've never been able to predict the outcome of the Clarke Award, even when I was one of the judges. Expect a healthy buzz of controversy as various SF pundits tell the world what should have been shortlisted instead of the above ...

The SF reading public – or at least those who are interested enough to join the British SF Association – can instead vote in the annual BSFA Awards, whose finalists were also recently announced. Jon Courtenay Grimwood's End of the World Blues and M John Harrison's Nova Swing are again included, showing that expert panels and "ordinary" readers have some tastes in common. The other novel nominees are Liz Williams with Darkland, Roger Levy with Icarus and James Morrow with The Last Witchfinder.

By the way, the BSFA award also has a short fiction category which this year includes not only short stories but also Ken MacLeod's slim volume The Highway Men, a book with too few words to count as a full-blown novel.

There's little point in comparing these British shortlists with the preliminary Nebula Award ballot (voted by members of the SF and Fantasy Writers of America, with much enthusiastic logrolling). The Nebulas mysteriously use a different calendar from other awards, so the 2007 Nebula list includes work from both 2006 and 2005 – including Robert Charles Wilson's Spin, which has already won the 2006 Hugo Award for best novel.

The Philip K Dick Award also has a different catchment area. It's for US paperback originals, since this lowly form of publication – with no posh hardback – was how most of Dick's own books first appeared. Since the rules don't exclude former British hardbacks, there's occasional controversy about the shortlisting of novels whose first edition wasn't at all lowly. An example from the current Dick finalists is Living Next Door to the God of Love, by Britain's own Justina Robson.

(And yes, I'm afraid there are certain US award-winners who will offer to show you their Dicks. Let's not go there, shall we?)

Further exciting award news may or may not follow ...

David Langford is waiting nervously for the Hugo shortlist.

Later, June 2007: This is the sort of topical but disposable column that it seems hardly worth enshrining on my website, now that all the open questions have been answered. At least I hope it encouraged a few readers to look at the shortlisted books. Jon Courtenay Grimwood's End of the World Blues won the BSFA Award and M John Harrison's Nova Swing won the Clarke Award, both popular choices. The Nebulas for (nominally) 2006 sf achievement achieved a high point of Nebula weirdness by being voted – without exception – to works published in 2005. See Ansible for more.