Jan 19 2011 9:46am

Philip K. Dick Award Nominees, 2011

The Philip K. Dick award is an award for science fiction that was published as paperback originals. It seems to me to be one of our most interesting awards, coming up with a consistently interesting slate of candidates, often by newer writers, seldom overlapping with other awards. I’ve found some great books and new writers from these lists. The jury does a very good job. And they’re all original paperbacks so you don’t have much to lose by trying them out—you could buy this whole shortlist for less than the price of two new hardcovers.

This year’s nominees are:

I haven’t read any of them, but let’s take a closer look anyway:

Seven different publishers, seven very different books, five subgenres. One Hugo Award-winning author, one Seiun Award-winning novel freshly translated into English, one writer using a new name, two sequels, two starts of series, three debuts. As for subgenres, two zombie novels, two dystopias, one generation ship, one steampunk and one romantic space opera. Isn’t it wonderful that all this stuff is out there?

Yarn is the sequel to Grey, which was also nominated for the Dick. Here’s the Locus review. Like Star Wars only with fabric? I have got to read this! (There’s an excerpt of Yarn available here on

Elizabeth Bear is a name who will need no introduction. Chill is the sequel to Dust, and it’s a generation ship novel. Here’s the Strange Horizons review.

Alden Bell’s The Reapers are the Angels is a zombie novel, and therefore very much not my thing. It may be yours, though, here’s the Strange Horizons review.

Sara Creasy is a new author, Song of Scarabaeus is her first novel. Here’s the Fantasy magazine review. It’s about high tech terraforming and oppressive interstellar governments and orphans escaping and having adventures. It sounds great, and this is so very much my thing it’s going straight onto my “want” list. There’s a sequel out already.

Mark Hodder’s The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack is steampunk, featuring Richard Burton and Swinburne investigating why werewolves are infesting London’s East End. It’s clearly using some of the historical material that also inspired Tim Powers The Anubis Gates. Here’s an SF Site review. (There’s an excerpt of The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack available here on

Harmony is perhaps the most interesting book on this list. It’s very unusual for books in translation to get much attention in the U.S. Haikasoru are an imprint dedicated to publishing Japanese science fiction in english. Anime and manga have been very successful, so why not actual books? Rather than being a traditional publisher, they are the book arm of a manga publisher. I’ve been hearing good things about the line for a while. They are edited by Nick Mamatas. Harmony won the Seiun, the Japanese Hugo. It’s a story about growing up in a future utopia that turns out not to be so perfect after all. The author, Project (or Satoshi) Itoh, died in 2009 at the age of 34 just after the original publication of Harmony. There aren’t many reviews, but here’s one from James Nicoll, “Let’s say Watts and Egan decided to collaborate on a medical dystopia/thriller.”

James Knapp’s State of Decay is about a future dystopia populated by a new kind of zombie. Again, not my thing, but here’s the Green Man review.

Congratulations to all the nominees, it’ll be interesting to find out in April who wins—but I really do find award shortlists more interesting than award winners.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

Nancy Lebovitz
1. NancyLebovitz
There's so little sf about clothing.... I strongly recommend Bayley's The Garments of Caen.

Are trade paperbacks consistent with the intent of the PKD Award? It seems to me that they aren't as low status as mass market-sized books.
Jo Walton
2. bluejo
Nancy: Trade paperbacks are OK, becuase some of last year's definitely were, but I think there's a rule that a certain percentage have to be mmpbs.
James Davis Nicoll
3. James Davis Nicoll
I've fallen so far behind on those Haikasoru reviews...

A word about the scale: the three axes I am using go from -5 to +5. The first measures how hard the science is (Egan being around 4, say, and Van Vogt being in the negatives), the next how optimistic the story is (younger readers can get their grandparents to explain to them what 'optimism' means) and the last is how whimsical the book is. I notice that that system doesn't actually reveal how much I liked or disliked the books I am rating. Huh.

Numerical ratings give the false impression this isn't all rated rule of thumb but oh well.
James Davis Nicoll
4. N. Mamatas
I hope this doesn't come off as spam, but here are a couple more reviews of Harmony.

From (which also named the book one of the year's best):

Novelist Jesse Bullington also had interesting comments:
James Davis Nicoll
6. etranger
Now I really want Watts and Egan to collaborate on something, they're two of my favorite authors.

I'll have to check out this Harmony book.
Anthony Roisum
7. Veto
The Reapers are the Angels isn't so much a zombie novel, as a novel that happens to have zombies in it. I loved it and have read it three times since I bought it about 5 months ago.
Daniel Abraham
8. DanielAbraham
The role of mmpb has changed enough that I'm not sure that rule still does quite what it was intended to do. I was one of the PKD judges last year, and one of the things I noticed is that mass market originals were about the middle of the status curve. There were a lot of trade paperbacks from the big publishers that were clearly high-status releases, but there were also a lot of self-published and small press trade paperbacks that seemed to take the same ecological niche that mass markets used to fill. I assume that's a response to the economics of mass market returns policy -- and maybe printing costs, though I don't really know about that.

Just an observation. I thought we had a great slate of candidates last year, and this year looks like a bunch of very impressive books too.
James Davis Nicoll
10. Ernest Lilley

Don't shy away from The Angels Are The Reapers because it's "zombie" novel. A zombie plague provides the backdrop, but the story isn't about that at all, the writing is terrific, and the characters are very nicely realized. So far it's the most impressive title on the list, though Yarn is very good as well, though more traditionally sfpunk while Angels is arguably slipstream.

I found Song to be annoying, both because the characters relationships didn't jell until the end of the book and because it's clearly a serial novel, and we're supposed to tune in to the next exciting volume to see what happens. I'm all for story arc, but I think this ones being padded for the sake of having a trilogy.


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