Friday, 30 March 2012

Christopher Priest and The Clarke Award

Well, a massive shit storm blew over the Arthur C. Clarke Award yesterday, following a post of Christopher Priest's blog. Christopher Priest, famous in genre circles in particular as author of The Prestige, which was superbly adapted in 2006 by Christopher Nolan (he of Inception and Batman Begins/ Dark Knight fame), wrote a scathing attack on the shortlist and judging of the Clarke Award.

Go on, go read it.

Yes, the Clarke Award's shortlist has been universally responded to with a hearty 'meh' across the blogosphere, but so what? Embassytown is by no means China MiƩville's best work, though is still excellent - Priest is correct in part with his criticism of 'nonce' words used in the book. I gave it a four star review over on Fantasy Faction when it came out. I regret that I haven't read any of the other five books, though I will almost certainly get around to doing so. However, the blogging world doesn't give rave reviews to any. Greg Bear's Hull Zero Three is typical Bear, another spaceship book from an author who probably peaked with the superd Blood Music, and is trying to recapture that magic. Sheri Tepper's The Water's Rising seems to fall in a similar camp, and reviews often define it as fantasy rather than SF (though where that difference lies is debatable). Charlie Stross is often criticised for his irritating prose style, though to call him an 'internet puppy' is perhaps too far. His Rule 34 doesn't seem to be an exception. Drew Magery's The Postmortal / The End Specialist seems a beacon of hope, yet hasn't recieved massive praise. Finally Jane Roger's The Testament of Jessie Lamb, longlisted for the Booker prize, seems to have been met with nods of the head, and a satisfied air, as opposed to the rest of the shortlist.

Bear, Tepper and MiƩville were, in my opinion, bound to get nominations. They were big name authors, writing big name books. Roger was well praised, and seems a good debut into genre fiction. But yes, the shortlist is slightly uninspiring, but that does not give anyone call to roundly abuse the judging process, judges themselves or the award. Award shortlists provoke discussion, no matter what awar they are. The Booker, the Orange, the Costa, the BSFA, the Hugo, the Nebula. You name it, there will be debate, there will be arguments, there will be confrontation. But, and this is a big but, people respect the judges. They may disagree, but they disagree with the utmost respect.

The 'modest' suggestion that Priest puts forward, the 5 part plan, is, to put it plainly, a disgusting personal attack on what the award considers its best option. The Clarke may be wrong, and perhaps even is wrong in its discussion of what ought to be on the shortlist. But, that does not excuse such a vitriolic attack. I have lost respect for Priest.

That is not to say that SF awards don't need critiquing, or awards in general. They do, but they need an intelligence applied to them that Priest, someone with a vast modicum of said intelligence has, and throws out of the window in this attack. His attacks on Mar Billingham, with whom he shared a stage at the Oxford Literary Festival, are beyond the pale. A commenter on the OF blog (linked to below) said "There really is no requirement that all criticism be balanced or politely worded". That may be the case, but you'll gain a damn site more of my respect by doing so.

Clarke Award 2012 Shortlist
Christopher Priest's Original Post
Guardian Coverage
The excellent OF Blog's coverage
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist's Coverage
John Scalzi's lovely comment
A great, intelligent commentary by Damien G walter, comparing Priest to Leavis