Puppies & Ray-Guns

The SF award season traditionally kicks off with grumbling about the lame-brained judges who picked the wrong books for the latest Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist. This year was no exception. In a fiery blog post, Christopher Priest lambasted not only the administrator and jury – calling for them all to resign – but the shortlisted novels, including China Miéville's Embassytown and Charles Stross's Rule 34. Stross, he said grumpily, "writes like an internet puppy". Charlie rushed to design an Internet Puppy t-shirt.

Cries of outrage filled the SF blogosphere, and the mini-controversy even got into the Guardian. Some responses were heavily sarcastic about the Clarke shortlist's conspicuous failure to include The Islanders by Chris Priest.

If there's truly no such thing as bad publicity, the Clarke Award had a major boost. At the UK national convention over Easter it remained a hot talking-point. The Stross t-shirt (INTERNET PUPPY NO CAN HAZ NOMS) was widely admired. Pundits expected a backlash against Chris Priest, since The Islanders was also nominated in that weekend's British SF Association Awards. Would there be a come-uppance? Who would rid us of this turbulent Priest?

The BSFA Award ceremony was memorable, not entirely in a good way. Nominees got front-row seating, where I fretted about the possibility that the SF Encyclopedia (now 3.5 million words and just shortlisted for the Hugo) could lose Best Nonfiction to a blog post. Other contenders – for novel, short fiction and artwork – were equally jittery. At least the suspense would soon be over....

Oh no it wouldn't! MC John Meaney opened the show with a stand-up comedy routine. He's a very good novelist, but perhaps not the greatest of comedians; his string of fannish in-jokes, with weird PowerPoint slides, baffled some audience members and enraged others. As I deafly tried to follow increasingly non-PC gags about leprechauns, "babes in SF", hot female authors with smashing looks and mysterious likening of the heavily bearded Charlie Stross to Osama bin Laden, a Twitter storm brewed in the dark hall behind. Phrases like "hideous trainwreck" and "Walkout now in progress" were freely bandied.

That now legendary MC performance went on for some forty minutes. Adam Roberts, a best-novel nominee, tweeted from the front row: "When this speech started I was a 46-year old man in reasonable health. I'm now 85 and clinging to life."

Recriminations continued for days. Again the blogosphere became the gibbersphere. A BSFA committee member resigned. The BSFA apologised. John Meaney sort of apologised. Even Publishers Weekly took notice. We lived in interesting times.

From my hugely biased point of view, the ceremony ended pretty well. For one thing, the introduction had stopped. This year's BSFA trophies were plastic ray-gun outlines on bases made (don't ask me why) from tatty old SF paperbacks bolted together. The SF Encyclopedia won for nonfiction, Dominic Harman for art, Paul Cornell of Doctor Who fame for short story (his ray-gun was purple, surely not a comment on his prose) ... and, defying all the predictions that he'd shot himself in the foot with his Clarke Award tirade, Chris Priest took the novel prize with The Islanders.

Riffing on his advice to the Clarke jury, he told the massed voters: "I suppose you all have to resign now." Then he peered at the underside of his ray-gun trophy and pretended to discover it was "Made for China ... oh, Made in China." Rival nominee China Miéville wasn't available for comment, but it got a deplorably good laugh anyway. Naughty Chris.

BSFA AWard 2012

David Langford was caught on camera pointing the Encyclopedia's death ray at Charlie Stross. Accidentally, he claims.