Ali B and the Forty Spaceships — Part the Second [May 2014]
“Witch Sight is the ability to see through ILLUSIONS and to spot Magical events, invisible persons, ELVES and the nimbus surrounding a Spellworking. It is a truly useful GIFT. All MAGIC USERS seem to have it. In some cases it entails the ability to see patterns that others cannot perceive.”
—The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones
THIS ISSUE OF BTS Book Reviews has a heroes and heroines theme, and at time of writing in the land of science fiction and fantasy, the Early Awards Season is in full swing — although depending on what obtuse works have been shortlisted this time round, it’s occasionally also referred to as The Silly Season. Occasionally. Not so this year.
Founded in 2009 by the website www.pornokitsch.com, The Kitschies are a set of UK literary awards for “the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining fiction with elements of the speculative or fantastic”, and the shortlists for 2014 were announced in early January. With the winners announced a month later.
There are four awards, but the main fiction ones are The Red Tentacle for Best Novel, and The Golden Tentacle for Best Debut Novel. In a snazzy award ceremony at London’s Seven Dials Club, the winner for Best Novel went to Ruth Ozeki for A Tale for the Time Being (Canongate), a title that also got nominated for the Booker Prize last year. The winner for Best Debut Novel went to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice (Orbit), a galaxy-spanning space opera that’s been garnering attention left, right and centre given that it’s also a joint winner of the BSFA Awards (see below), alongside Ack Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell (Solaris) — mentioned in this column last issue…
Ancillary Justice also won this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award (see below), was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award (see below), and has been nominated by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) for the 2013 Nebula Awards — the winner of this to be announced 17th May, 2014— as well as making the shortlist for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel, the winner of that one to be announced in a grand ceremony at LonCON 3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention later this year (August) in London, UK.
The winners for the 2013 BSFA Awards have also been announced. These have been given out annually since 1970, and are drawn from a list of nominations by members of the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) and —more recently— attendees of Eastercon, an annual science-fiction convention that takes place, you guessed it, over the Easter weekend here in the UK. The BSFA Awards are often considered true ‘fan awards’ since there is no official panel other than the small team of people who simply compile the results from everyone else’s nominations.
Like The Kitschies, there are also four BSFA Awards, for Best Novel, Best Short Fiction, Best Non-Fiction, and Best Artwork. The joint Best Novel winners this year were: Ack Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell and Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, with Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer (Abrams Image) winning the Best Non-Fiction category.
One of the little gems that also made it as far as the Golden Tentacle shortlist is Ramez Naam’s Nexus (Angry Robot), this is an excellent tale exploring the concept of a new illegal mind-enhancing drug that allows people to communicate through thought alone, but like any classic good vs evil tale, there are those who would use it for good but probably twice as many that would use it for more nefarious reasons… Crux (also from Angry Robot) is the sequel to Nexus, and in this bio-techno thriller we find the foundations for global revolution being laid as the author gets set to expand his canvas to fully encompass every facet of the political and ethical issues surrounding his premise. The third and final part, as yet untitled, is due at some point later this year, so do please keep your eyes peeled for when it does appear as global carnage is virtually guaranteed.
Oh, you want to know about some more Award Winners, do you? No problem…
The 2014 Philip K. Dick Award is presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in original paperback format within the US. The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust and the award ceremony itself sponsored by the NorthWest Science Fiction Society. This year’s winner, announced on 18th April 2014, was Countdown City by Ben H. Winters (Quercus Books), volume two of The Last Policeman trilogy, the first of which, called The Last Policeman (also by Quercus Book), won the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Original Paperback.
As already mentioned, Ancillary Justice won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, an annual award given “for the best science fiction novel first published in the UK during the previous year”. Established with a grant from Sir Arthur C. Clarke himself, the winner is chosen by a panel of judges invited from the BSFA, the Science Fiction Foundation, and the SCI-FI London Film Festival, and has been running since 1987. The Arthur C. Clarke Award is considered by some to be the most prestigious science fiction prize in the UK, and the winner receiving a prize equivalent to the current year in GBP sterling is something not to be sniffed at (£2014 this year in case you need prompting), and this particular award always receives generous press coverage in the national broadsheets to boot.
One of the Clarke nominees that has also made it onto the Hugo Award shortlist for Best Novel (alongside Ancillary Justice) is Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (Ace/Orbit UK). I really liked Neptune’s Brood, it’s a clever tale that reads like a space opera, but has a lot to say about the nature of money and debt. It also has bat-like intergalactic pirates who happen to be insurance adjusters, a space-going evangelist church, and a selection of privateers, and a quest for lost treasure, all told with typical Strossian flair and panache. A book well worth looking out for if you haven’t seen it before.
Just enough room for a selection of quickies, so here goes…
Sarah Pinborough is probably one of the most hard-working writers I know, and I intend to cover more of her books next time, but do please keep an eye out for The Language of Dying (published by Jo Fletcher Books), an exceptional —and short— piece of work written in the second person as a kind of love letter to a dying father. Haunting, eerie, and beautifully written, this has been one of my all-time favourite books from the last five years or so and I’d urge you to seek out a copy to fully experience her sparkling prose for yourself.
Anne McCaffrey is probably best known for her countless Dragonriders of Pern novels, but the American-born Irish writer also wrote a staggering amount of other genre fiction spanning many different universes. To this end, I’d like to introduce you to her not so well known Freedom series (aka The Catteni Sequence), written at the tail end of the last millenium and set in a universe where subjugated humans are unceremoniously dumped on apparently empty, uninhabited worlds purely to see whether or not they survive, thus paving the way for the Catteni to settle them at a later date for their own race. Of course, things are never that easy, and we soon find that the Catteni themselves are also being subjugated, but in a completely different manner and by another alien species, the Eosi.
Freedom’s Landing is the first in the series (all published by Corgi and available via Kindle), and is set on planet Botany, where a group of humans and a noble Catteni defector manage to forge the beginnings of a survivalist colony. Book 2, Freedom’s Choice expands on this much further; with the humans (and their Catteni aide) forging a full-blown colony and capturing a couple of Eosi/Catteni ships with which to steal and import much needed supplies to bolster and support the colony. In Freedom’s Challenge, things turn full circle as the human colonists use their ships to strike back against the Eosi in an effort to rescue the families of dissident Catteni rebels and ultimately help free planet Earth and other planets from Eosi suppression. Finally, Freedom’s Ransom is arguably the weakest of the bunch, and details the efforts of a small team from Botany as they battle greedy merchants and try to reform a battered Earth in the wake of Eosi departure. All a very far cry from McCaffrey’s Pern books, but nonetheless a worthy read, and by a true mistress of genre fiction to boot. Make a point of investigating them today.
* This column originally appeared in the July/Aug 2014 issue of BTS Book Reviews