A quick reskimming of two more reflections on the Shadow Clarke Awards.
First Nina Allan:
Our current situation is a disaster. Only last week another article was published, reporting the findings of a recent survey: that the British publishing industry remains 90% white. It is imperative that this state of affairs is made to change, not just on account of those talented individuals whose pathway into the creative industries is effectively being blocked, but especially because of what it says about where we are as a society. British cultural institutions are atrophying under the weight of reaction. British political culture is more toxic than it was in the days of Enoch Powell. We have somehow created a climate where thousands of people think Jacob Rees Mogg would be a reasonable choice to be our next prime minister, for fuck’s sake. We are a dead country walking. This is urgent, and it is urgent now. After a considerable amount of post-Sharke soul searching, I have come to the conclusion that positive action is more important than obeisance to a brand of objectivity that is specious in any case. At the very least, the Clarke Award should begin admitting entry to works not published in the UK. The current rules have meant that some of the most interesting and important SF by minority and marginalised writers has been ineligible for the Clarke because it happens to have been published in the USA. An award for best science fiction novel that does not take account of the work published by Aqueduct Press, just for example, is setting itself up to be parochial and restrictive. Most works by established writers are published simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic in any case – with the result that the only works being blocked are precisely those works that we need to see more of.
Personally I would restrict the Clark Award to work published within the British Commonwealth for reactionary reasons as I think that allowing novels which could receive no UK publication at all would dramatically alter the character of what is short and long listed . It would allow more inclusion, but at the same time I fear it would potentially create more homogeneity between it and the other major SF awards.
And second Paul Kincaid:
Criticism is an exercise in rational argument. If you believe that the book is a crock of shit, then it is incumbent upon you to explain why. The judgement that the critic expresses is only part, and indeed a small part, of the criticism. The bulk of any criticism should be an argument that, if followed properly, will lead the reader to understand how and why the critic arrived at that judgement.
That is a pretty austere approach to criticism. I know that. I understand that others may not be comfortable with such austerity. But as I say: I am a puritan.
I value criticism not as something that I do, but as something that makes me think, that encourages precision, that insists upon a close consideration of everything. Criticism, done well, is the most intellectually stimulating thing I know.
Unfortunately, I have come to feel over the last few years that, while criticism still is done well, it is less well valued than it used to be.
There are numerous other fine points well made in both Nina and Paul’s essays. Whether as a reader or write of science fiction I encourage you to reflect on them.
From Megan and Jonathan.
What you like, and what is important are not the same things. What feels modern and what is progressive are not the same things. Groundbreaking art does not give us comfort; it feels uncomfortable until we get comfortable enough with it to adjust our mental schema–our worldview– to accommodate it. Good novels don’t conform to us, they change us and change with us, and when they do, they should win awards.
One of the reasons why I decided to take part in the project was that I believed – and still believe – that genre publishing is going through a period of aesthetic retrenchment. Look at the way that even established and award-winning authors are manacled to conventional forms and you’ll find an industry that is desperately trying to consolidate existing readerships while desperately trying to make inroads into the profitable but aesthetically conservative YA and YA-adjacent markets. As a result of this period of retrenchment, genre publishing is producing less aesthetically ambitious works than it was five, ten, or fifteen years ago.
This period of aesthetic retrenchment has coincided with a catastrophic collapse in the range of tolerated discourse with regards to genre literature. Ten years ago, genre culture was home to a thriving blogosphere that encouraged a broad range of attitudes towards science fiction literature. Since then, that blogosphere has largely collapsed and a fan-centric ethic of honest self-expression has been replaced with an industry-centric ethic of enforced positivity.
This was a good project. As interesting in its failures as despairing in other people’s reactions to it.