Wednesday, May 3, 2017

2017 Clarke Award Nominees

Location: Sci-Fi London at Foyles Bookshop in London, United Kingdom.

Comments: The most interesting thing about the Clarke Award in 2017 has nothing at all to do with the award itself in any official sense. In February, a group of critics led by Nina Allen formed a "shadow jury" and announced their intention to evaluate the books that had been submitted for the Clarke Award and create their own shortlist out of that assembly of works. This shadow jury consisted of Nina Allan plus Megan AM, Vajra Chandrasekera, David Hebblethwaite, Victoria Hoyle, Nick Hubble, Paul Kincaid, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and Jonathan McCalmont. Over the ensuing two months, they read many of the eligible books and commented upon them. Many of the members of the "shadow jury" came up with their own personal shortlist of finalists, but, more importantly, they all got together and came up with a joint shortlist, which they dubbed the "Sharke Six". This joint shortlist was announced the day before the official Clarke Award shortlist was released, and consisted of the following six books:
  • The Arrival of Missives  by Aliya Whiteley
  • Central Station  by Lavie Tidhar*
  • A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna
  • Infinite Ground by Martin MacInnes
  • The Power  by Naomi Alderman
  • The Underground Railroad by  Colson Whitehead*

  • *Also an official finalist.
The first thing one might note about this "alternate" shortlist is that there is some overlap with the official shortlist, although that overlap only amounts to two books. This overlap is notable, because it happens to include one of the books that one of the shadow jurors described as "essential", and declared he would judge the official Clarke Award on whether or not it was included in the shortlist. This declaration came despite assurances from the organizers of the shadow jury that their "idea is not to ‘challenge’ the official jury in any way". It seems that for some of the critics involved, the idea was, in fact, to challenge the official jury.

The real question to ask is whether the creators of the shadow jury lived up to their stated intention to "bring more to the party: more readers, more critics, more books, more discussion". Well, maybe. They certainly brought more critics into the discussion by bringing themselves. From one perspective, they brought more books by having an alternate shortlist that diverged from the official shortlist by four books. On the other hand, they were working from the same longlist of works, so the "more books" claim might be something of a stretch. They brought more discussion by discussing the books they put on their personal lists and giving an account of how they came up with their alternate shortlist, but they probably would have discussed those books anyway, which tempers the claim to more discussion somewhat. On the other hand, I (and others like me) probably wouldn't be discussing this had they not formed a shadow jury, so that can be said to be more discussion. Did they create more readers? Maybe, although I don't see how one could measure that.

On the whole, I'd say that by the metrics they set forth, the shadow jury is a moderate success. What it does mean is that instead of merely having six official Clarke Award finalists, we now have a list of six "official" and four additional "shadow" finalists. I'd say that is something of a win for genre fiction fans no matter how you look at it.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead*

After Atlas by Emma Newman
Central Station by Lavie Tidhar*
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

* Also a shadow finalist.

What Are the Arthur C. Clarke Awards?

Go to previous year's nominees: 2016
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2018

Book Award Reviews     Home

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