Christopher Priest rips into the Arthur C. Clarke Award


Holy shit, but Christopher Priest doesn't pull any punches! Most genre fans don't give a damn about awards, yet even those who do opined that this year's shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award was kind of weak.

In a day and age in which the credibility of such awards continues to be questioned, Christopher Priest goes all out!

Here's an excerpt from his article:

It seems to me that 2011 was a poor year for science fiction. Of the sixty books submitted by publishers, only a tiny handful were suitable for awards. The brutal reality is that there were fewer than the six needed for the Clarke shortlist. Many of the submissions were fantasy of the least ambitious type, and many of the science fiction titles were almost as firmly embedded in genre orthodoxies, to their own huge disadvantage (and discredit), as the plodding, laddish works of Mr Mark Billingham. Discounting all those submissions did not leave many competitors at the top.


In short, the winner of the award must be found within an excellent shortlist, that the win must seem to have been hard-won, and that the choice was the result of reasoned argument and intelligent debate amongst the judges.


Miéville has already won the Clarke Award three times – which is not his fault, and one assumes not his intention. No doubt he is pleased to have done so. His current novel is the leading contender for this year’s award, and if it becomes the winner then it will be his fourth. Again, not his fault and not apparently what he necessarily seeks, but also it’s safe to assume he would not turn it down.

However, a fourth award to this writer would send out a misleading and damaging message to the world at large: it suggests that not only is Mr Miéville the best the SF world can offer at the moment, he is shown to be more or less the only writer worth reading. Worse even than this, it would send a misleading message to China Miéville himself.

Although Miéville is clearly talented, he does not work hard enough. For a novel about language, Embassytown contains many careless solecisms, which either Mr Miéville or his editor should have dealt with. This isn’t the place to go into a long textual analysis, but (for example) a writer at his level should never use ‘alright’ so often or so unembarrassedly. He also uses far too many neologisms or SF nonce-words, which drive home the fact that he is defined and limited by the expectations of a genre audience. On the first few pages, alone, he uses the words ‘shiftparents’, ‘voidcraft’, ‘yearsends’, ‘trid’, ‘vespcams’, ‘miab’, ‘plastone’, ‘hostnest’, ‘altoysterman’ … Yes, of course, it’s possible to work out what most of these might mean (or to wait until another context makes them clearer), but it is exactly this use of made-up nouns that makes many people find science fiction arcane or excluding. A better writer would find a more effective way of suggesting strangeness or an alien environment than by just ramming words together. It’s lazy writing.


Sheri S. Tepper’s The Waters Rising (Gollancz) – how can one describe it? For fuck’s sake, it is a quest saga and it has a talking horse. There are puns on the word ‘neigh’.


We have a dreadful shortlist put together by a set of judges who were not fit for purpose. They were incompetent. Their incompetence was made more problematical because the overall quality of the fiction in the year in question was poor. They did not know how to resolve this. They played what they saw as safe.

They failed themselves, they failed the Clarke Award, and they failed anyone who takes a serious interest in speculative fiction.


The easy way out of this problem is to do nothing. We wait for 2nd May, we troop along to the awards ceremony and we wait for the decision to be announced. In a sense, it does not matter which one of the six books is announced, because all of them are deficient in the ways I have described. (If this happens, I hope the winner is Jane Rogers, because the deficiencies in her novel are much less serious than those in the others.) The true winner of the award, the writer of the best book of last year, will never be known, because he or she is not on the shortlist.

But there is a better way forward, and here it is.
1. The present panel of judges should be fired, or forced to resign, immediately. Their names are Juliet E. McKenna, Martin Lewis, Phil Nanson, Nikkianne Moody and Rob Grant. Chairman Andrew M. Butler should also resign. These people have proved themselves incompetent as judges, and should not be allowed to have any more say about or influence on the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
2. The 2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award should be suspended forthwith, and the planned awards ceremony on 2nd May should be cancelled.
3. The award fund (£2,012.00, as I understand it) should be held over until next year. Next year’s fund should be added to it, so that the prize for 2013 becomes £4,013.00.
4. The 2013 Clarke Award should be made to the best novel published in the two years ended 31st December 2012. All novels currently eligible for the 2012 award, whether or not they have been shortlisted by this year’s panel, are eligible again.
5. All the other usual rules of the Award should be applied

Follow this link to read Christopher Priest's full piece.

8 commentaires:

The Writer, not in residence said...

So, all that he is saying is that anyone who doesn't have his taste is incapable of making a correct judgement. Which is the height of arrogance. Especially given the tedium of The Prestige.

The Writer, not in residence said...

So, he expended several thousand words to say that his taste is all that matters. No wonder The Prestige was so tedious.

Anonymous said...

Heh. After all that, he calculated next year's prize incorrectly. It would be 4,025, not 4,013.

Spaz said...

I'm not so sure he calculated it incorrectly so much as decided to keep the last two digits of the amount match the year it would be rewarded.

And while arrogant, any award, especially those including the word Best, is nothing more than opinion anyway. And he has every right to have his own and express it.

Personally, I don't care much about awards. I may sometimes use them as a guide, but only to think a book may be at least above average.

Art of any form is highly subjective by nature anyhow.

Shane said...

Be sure and check out the tshirts Mr. Stross is selling in response.

Anonymous said...

It comes down to him saying "I disagree with these choices there fore they are s**t"

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Embassytown. (I even enjoyed the maligned jargon.)

From the rest of Priest's spray it seems to me fairly obvious that he reads/writes/critiques "speculative fiction" novels by entirely different criteria to what the genre's readers do.

Anonymous said...

On the whole I think this was as truly encouraging as it gets for Mieville. Overloaded praise probably doesn't help anyone.