Apr 11 2013 11:00am

Marking the Clarkes

The Clarke Awards 2013

Last week, the shortlist for this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award was announced, and the internet promptly exploded.

Maybe I’m overstating the case. Maybe I should say, instead, that our little corner of it did. But ours is a corner I’m awfully fond of, whatever its faults, so from where I was sitting—from where you were too, presumably—the response to the all-male array appeared immediate, and incredibly widespread.

I can’t hope to collate all the opinions offered, but in Marking the Clarkes, we’re going to work our way through a few of the most representative reactions. Expect equal measures of vitriol, outrage and intrigue. After that, perhaps we can come to some sort of a conclusion courtesy your comments.

But before we get into this whole rigmarole, let’s remind ourselves of the shortlist which inspired such a wide range of reactions.

As usual, six science fiction novels made the cut. Here they are, in alphabetical order by author:

  • Nod by Adrian Barnes
  • Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
  • Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
  • Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

In short, what we have here is a shortlist composed entirely of middle-aged white men hailing from either Great Britain or North America, with a lone Canadian for added variety.

And this is to be taken as representative of the best science fiction published in the UK last year.

For serious.

It’s easy, immediately, to see where the cries of inequality came from. And come they did indeed! To wit, let’s begin this overview with a few words from genre commentator and Best Fan Writer nominee James Nicoll, who put the problem rather sarcastically:

Congratulations to the Clarkes for resisting the deadly temptation to produce a more diverse nominee list, especially given the outrageous—by what appear to the current standards of British SF—presence of women, persons of colour and Muslims on the submissions list. In particular I’d like to praise you for snubbing Alif the Unseen, which could have only emboldened those people into further creativity in the field of SF and for picking [Kim Stanley Robinson’s] proud tribute to colonialism and American Exceptionalism IN SPACE! over, say, Blue Remembered Earth, whose author fell into the dark error of actually paying attention to recent trends in Africa.

Regarding Nicoll’s last assertion, I’d politely suggest that 2312 was a far better book than Blue Remembered Earth; that it deserves its spot on the shortlist because of its superior value as a narrative, because the sense of wonder it evokes is impeccable, because its emotional impact is massive... not because it was written by an American about Americans for America. Robinson’s novel is probably less progressive than Alasdair Reynold’s... but the Clarkes aren’t The Kitschies, are they? It’s important, I think, to bear that in mind.

Otherwise, Nicoll gets right to the root of the larger reaction in a very deliberate fashion. There’s certainly a problem with the shortlist... but that doesn’t automatically mean the panel who picked these books over the other 76 on the longlist are at fault.

Here’s Award Director Tom Hunter, via Alison Flood’s article for The Guardian, on why the lack of women is... if not a non-issue, then a concern beyond the bounds of the people responsible for selecting this year’s shortlist:

“This is a fascinating and complex shortlist that demands repeated attention and thoughtful interpretation. Shortlisting six books from a potential list of 82 eligible submissions is no easy task by any critical standard,” said the prize’s director Tom Hunter.

Hunter said he was “very conscious” of the prize’s male line-up, and pointed to the fact that four of the award’s five judges were female—Juliet E McKenna, Ruth O’Reilly, Nickianne Moody and Liz Williams. He also highlighted that both 2012 and 2011’s Clarke awards were won by female authors—Lauren Beukes for Zoo City, and Jane Rogers for The Testament of Jessie Lamb—and that of the 82 books submitted for the award, just 16 were written by women, and one by a woman and man team.

“We are all aware of the issues and broader conversations in the industry about gender parity, but when you look at the books coming in and the strength of the authors, all the judges were operating from the point of picking the best books,” said Hunter. “That has to be made their priority, rather than selecting on gender.”

Notice how Hunter brings the lack of parity in terms of gender as opposed to colour or creed to the forefront of the resulting discussion.

Beyond this, though, I think he’s spot on. Of course the panel should pick the best books rather than allowing inclusiveness to influence its decisions. Subjective though it may be, would anyone for a second disagree with such a straightforward policy?

And sure enough, as Hunter reminds us, the pickings this year—as regards science fiction written by women—were admittedly slim. Which brings us neatly to Everything is Nice, where Martin Lewis elaborated on the Award Director’s earlier assertions, with—brace yourselves—percentages and pie charts:

There is a persistent feeling that the number of science fiction novels being published by women in the UK has decreased since the Arthur C. Clarke Award was established in 1986.

Unfortunately, we can’t compare submissions historically but we can compare with the shortlists. So, in the first 10 years of the award 30% of nominees were female, 50% of winners were female and there were three years when there were as many women as men on the shortlist. Whereas in the last 10 years 22% of nominees were female, 20% of winners were female and men made up the majority of the shortlist every years.

So the record of the Arthur C. Clarke Award is getting worse. I think this has to reflect the worsening situation for women in British science fiction publishing over this period. The fact that this year’s shortlist is made up entirely of men is a symptom of this and we need to address the root cause.

Relatedly, Liz Williams, writing for The Guardian again, got out ahead of the unrest that she was evidently aware might arise:

As a female science fiction writer, feminist and a member of this year’s judging panel for the Clarke Awards, I find myself in the interesting position of defending our choice of an all-male list. I’ll start by saying that this was an outstanding year for submissions—82 books in total, with some exceptional writing from authors of both genders from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

Much of this was quite some way into the “fantasy” bracket, but of the more SF-facing work, we found ourselves looking at a field dominated by big ideas, near—and far—future explorations of the solar system, and some very sharp takes on government intrusion into social affairs. I think the shortlist reflects the best of these three “themes” for 2012, demonstrating a return to both the “sensawunda” and to the critical thought that so many complain is lacking from contemporary SF.

Okay, so that’s probably why Alif the Unseen was counted out—though I loved it utterly, it’s only as science-fictional as it is fantastical—but if sense of wonder and critical thought were themes this year, what happened to Jack Glass? Railsea, even?

More to the point—though I dare say even that is a debatable statement—why overlook vN by Madeline Ashby? And The Method by Juli Zeh? Alongside any number of other contenders, of course.

For an answer, or rather a reason, let’s look to Liz Williams’ defence again:

As a feminist, I am opposed to including women writers in shortlists just because they are female: the work has got to hold its own in its field: we can discuss whether that field is a level one or not, but when you’re judging a work, you’re obliged to deal with what you’ve got, and to me, that means regardless of any ideological criteria.

This leads us into the wider conversation as to why, despite having a significantly enlarged entry this year (a 36 per cent increase on the 60 books submitted in 2012) we received disproportionately fewer from women, of which many were technically fantasy. We do not have to go far to look for the answer: over the last few years, the publishing industry in both Britain and the US (but particularly in the former) has been commissioning fewer and fewer SF novels by women. The running gag for some years now has been that the industry has had a Highlander approach to women who write SF: there can be only one, at least on contract.

An unsettling trend, made still more disturbing by the idea that it’s become so ingrained in the industry that a meme has emerged, essentially fully-fledged.

That said, I tend to expect next year will be different. Maybe that’s the eternal optimist in me speaking, but just three and a half months into 2013, already Karen Lord should be a shoe-in for The Best of All Possible Worlds, and I’ll eat my damned hat if Lauren Beukes doesn’t score a spot on the following Clarke Award shortlist, because—spoiler warning (but not really; rest easy)—The Shining Girls is another astonishing novel from the South African author.

So was the reaction to this year’s shortlist basically a case of much ado about nothing?

No, it wasn’t. Absolutely positively not. There’s a very real problem in play that the subsequent back-and-forth has brought to the fore, finally. But I’d echo the thought that this alarming lack of diversity—at the very least vis-à-vis the overwhelming prevalence of penises amongst the authors of six of the best science fiction novels of 2012—can be traced back to the publishing industry rather simply set at the doorstep of a panel of individuals with autonomous opinions who announced an inherently subjective shortlist.

One last wrinkle before I let you folks work out where you stand and why: the publishing industry lives and dies by the same rules of supply and demand as any other commercial sector. Accusing the bigwigs and the buyers, then, is too easy an out. After all, they buy the books that they have reason to believe we’ll read.

Who then to blame for this dangerous state of affairs but ourselves?

Niall Alexander is an erstwhile English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and, where he contributes a weekly column concerned with news and new releases in the UK called the British Genre Fiction Focus, and co-curates the Short Fiction Spotlight. On rare occasion he’s been seen to tweet about books, too.

D. Bell
1. SchuylerH
I stopped reading at the assertion that 2312 was better than BRE. Would someone kindly inform me which chapters the narrative, sense of wonder and emotional impact were in, as they appear to have been omitted from my copy.
Ole A. Imsen
2. Weirdmage
I think the lack of female Science Fiction authors in the UK is certainly something that needs to be talked about. But as you point out at the end of the article, maybe the blame lies not with the industry, but with those that buy books.
There's no doubt that more Fantasy than SF is published, presumably because it sells better, and I have the impression that SF readers are less likely to read female authored books than Fantasy readers.

I'm not sure a comparison between the US and the UK is really fair, the potential domestic audience in the US is about five times greater than in the UK. It would be very interesting to see sales figures for books by female SF authors in the US. It could be that dividing the US sales figures by five ends up with a figure that is not commercially viable for UK publishers, and we must remember that publishing is actually a business.

Then again, if that is the case maybe alternative methods of getting readers used to reading SF written by women needs to be taken. Could subsidising such books for a period of time be the answer? -Hoping that if UK readers are exposed to SF written by women they will embrace it...
I don't know. And of course it does raise the question about who should be subsidising it?

Of course what we can do as readers, and certainly those readers that are also bookbloggers, is give exposure to the women who do write SF by reviewing and promoting their books.
I don't think anyone should sit idly by and wait for someone else to do something. The easiest thing to do for a reader is buying those SF books that are written by women who are available. Maybe if many enough do that it will be attractive for publishers to sign female SF authors.
Niall Alexander
3. niallalot
@Weirdmage: Well said, sir!

@SchuylerH: Sorry to have lost you so soon. Obviously my assertion that 2312 is the better book is subjective; my feelings are all I can really speak to here, but Blue Remembered Earth just didn't do it for me—too much set-up and not enough pay-off at the end of the day for my tastes—whereas I was in awe of Robinson's novel from the gorgeous prologue on. In any event, this was an incidental digression rather than part of the argument I meant to present here... though it does feed into the idea that awards are only opinions, preferences that are as personal as our own with respect to these two texts.
Sharat Buddhavarapu
4. spinfuzz
The problem is that when 22% of nominees are female, and 0% are found to be as good as the novels by the 78% of the rest of the field. Subjectivity is certainly a problem, but passing the blame off to the publishing industry is just lazy. If this gender prejudice exists as the statistics show in both readers and publishing companies, then the problem obviously enfolds the "readers" who also happen to be judges. Their judgment, despite whether they call themselves feminists or not, is very affected by the country-wide tastes/prejudices. It is their responsibility (as it is scientists' responsibility to account for confirmation bias) to hedge against that distortion. It is a problem with their perception, which means they need to question how reliable their tastes are as representatives of a meritocratic system of ranking (Hint: the answer is not very reliable).

I've read very few of the books that made the longlist, the only one I can recall off the top of my head is Alif the Unseen (which was dq'ed for reasons I can understand), so I can't comment on whether they were of the same level as the shortlisted novels or not, but how can you defend excluding 22% of the submissions entirely, a divide that is demarcated by gender, and pretend that your selection criteria didn't miss out on something?
Dave Thompson
5. DKT
Niall, something that has confused me from the beginning about Williams' comment/complaint that much of the stuff written by women was in the Fantasy bracket.

Since when did the Clarke Awards eschew fantasy? Lauren Beukes won for Zoo City, and all three of China Mieville's wins were fantasy novels.

Why all of a sudden are fantasy stories tossed out? Did I miss a memo?
Niall Alexander
6. niallalot
@DKT: You're absolutely right: the Clarkes haven't always dismissed fantasy out of hand, as the examples you mention demonstrate. This, I think, is representative of the modus operandi of this particular panel rather than the guidance of the body behind the awards. Don't know for a fact what brought it on, but if I'm honest, I'd prefer for the Clarkes—and relatedly the BSFAs—to stick with what's strictly science fiction instead of opening the gates to every other genre in the hopes, I can only imagine, of becoming one award to rule them all.

Anyway, you make a great point, mate.
Steven Halter
7. stevenhalter
From the Arthur C. Clarke Award About page, I see:
The Arthur C. Clarke Award is the most prestigious award for science fiction in Britain. The annual award is presented for the best science fiction novel of the year, and selected from a shortlist of novels whose UK first edition was published in the previous calendar year.
The Award was originally established by a generous grant from Sir Arthur C. Clarke with the aim of promoting science fiction, and is currently administered by the Serendip Foundation.
The winner is judged by a jury panel and selected from an initial shortlist of six eligible novels. The panel of judges is made up of a voluntary body of distinguished writers, critics and fans with the panel line-up changing every year.
So, it is the most prestigious (it says so) and it is for the
best science fiction novel of the year.
Publishers submit novels and judges may also call in novels. Then, the panel (changing every year) decides what is the best for a shorter list and then the best from that. How they go about this decision is not mentioned on the page.
8. pCiaran
Difficult to have a conversation about trends in publishing without working there and/or having access to facts and figures.

Contra @2 I would never have gotten the impression that science fiction had more reading of male authors then female authors. But my sample size of me and the people I know is probably not statistically significant.

I can accept on the basis of the evidence and quotes presented above that the first barrier to women publishing science fiction is the publishing industry itself. I have no idea how to deal with that without looking at the appropriate sales figures. There are probably also interesting stats about how much is spent on and by what method/s publishers chose to promote female authors. I would worry about a self fulfilling prophecy whereby women are marketed to women first, leading to a decline in male readers, justifying an increased marketing budget to get more women readers, leading to a decline in male readers, and so on.

But I think the assertion that female authors don't sell as well can only be combated with real data - on sales figures over time, sales figures in different jurisdictions, stocking policy in major book chains, number of each gender who submit manuscripts, and other such things.

Also, and this is just a provisional thought - If it is a reasonable defence for a subjective choice which seems to have excluded women to say "actually there are people on this panel who share the same gender so we know it wasn't the patriarchy striking again" should there be an equivalent defence of "this panel also has people with some cultural heritage/other factor in common with submittees so we know it wasn't bias against so-an-so". That would require a broad background for your panel of judges.

Now accepting that you can't quite get every viewpoint onto a panel of judges, you can probably tick a couple of major boxes with some sort of procedure that ensures you have a range of countries represented. You could also do some sort of cultural heritage division if everyone agreed on what counted as a significantly different culture.
Steven Halter
9. stevenhalter
@8:Again, from the award page:
The book is chosen by a panel of judges invited from the British Science Fiction Association, the Science Fiction Foundation and the SCI-FI-LONDON film festival.
Membership in each of these appears to be open to anyone who will pay their dues or volunteers in the case of the film festival. The pool of people available as judges thus does appear to be potentially diverse. How judges are selected from these groups is not, however, specified.
D. Bell
10. SchuylerH
@3: Well, give On the Steel Breeze a go when it comes out. Reynolds tends to put too much setup in his opening volumes (it's particularly bad in Revelation Space) but I'm still waiting for the theme of the trilogy as a whole to reveal itself. (In RS, the individual volumes and stories contributed to a marvelously deranged, Lovecraftian view of the universe to the extent that the whole thing can be seen as a rejection of positivism) Still, it's much more elegant than cramming a load of random phrases in at the end of every other chapter and hoping that reviewers will consider it a bold step in the tradition of Dos Passos...
11. RichardJP
@ SchuylerH, post #1 — Couldn't disagree more. The scenes on Mercury and the setting of Terminator has stuck in my mind much longer than any other science fiction I read this year. Great book, of course in my opinion.
12. ninebelow
Spinfuzz: The problem is that when 22% of nominees are female, and 0% are found to be as good as the novels by the 78% of the rest of the field. That didn't happen though. 0% of the 22% of submissions by women were found to be as good as 9% of the 78% of submissions by men. Or, to put it another way, all the submissions by women were found to be in the bottom 93% of all submissions. Pretty different. Unconscious bias obviously exists. I imagine as feminists and experienced readers, the four women and one man who make up this year's set of judges have tried to hedge against that distortion. Perhaps they have not always been successful. But even if that is the case, for unconscious bias to be the explanation for the all male shortlist means that this set of judges was more susceptible to this bias than any previous set of judges (despite the fact these judges have actually been part of previous sets of judges). I think a more plausible and less patronising explanation is readily available. Oh, and Alif the Unseen wasn't disqualified, that's Niall's speculation. We've no idea if the judges didn't think it was science fiction or didn't think it was good enough.
13. ninebelow
Sorry, I'd forgotten how shit the comments system is:

Spinfuzz: The problem is that when 22% of nominees are female, and 0% are found to be as good as the novels by the 78% of the rest of the field.

That didn't happen though. 0% of the 22% of submissions by women were found to be as good as 9% of the 78% of submissions by men. Or, to put it another way, all the submissions by women were found to be in the bottom 93% of all submissions. Pretty different.

Unconscious bias obviously exists. I imagine as feminists and experienced readers, the four women and one man who make up this year's set of judges have tried to hedge against that distortion. Perhaps they have not always been successful. But even if that is the case, for unconscious bias to be the explanation for the all male shortlist means that this set of judges was more susceptible to this bias than any previous set of judges (despite the fact these judges have actually been part of previous sets of judges). I think a more plausible and less patronising explanation is readily available.

Oh, and Alif the Unseen wasn't disqualified, that's Niall's speculation. We've no idea if the judges didn't think it was science fiction or didn't think it was good enough.
D. Bell
14. SchuylerH
@11: Well, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Did you ever read Icehenge or A Memory of Whiteness?
15. sjwest
Regarding zero Women in s/f.

Women apparently should be writing for Mills and Boon (or 50 shades of grey which the publishers missed). s/f as it appears s/f does not pay. If writing a book is dependent upon a money reward, and money is seen the end why write s/f.

This appears to be a publishing industry problem.
William Frank
16. scifantasy
either Great Britain or North America, with a lone Canadian for added variety.

Tom Hunter
17. TomHunter
Hi Niall, thanks for an interesting post

Obviously as the director of said award, I've been following all of the different strands of the arguement and hopefully my own contribution to the thread here will help clarify a few points.

Starting with my own quote in the Guardian that you reference, I don't want to retrospectively defend myself (those are my words being quoted pretty much) but I'm not accepting your statement that it was me that brought the lack of gender parity to the forefront over any other issue. I'm asnswering a direct question put to me on an all male shortlist by a Guardian journalist and you're reading two sentences of a much longer conversation.

The other main point I wanted to make is that there seems to be a pervasive but inaccurate idea that books were overlooked. Why did the judges overlook vN or The Method you ask?

They didn't. And neither did they overlook Jack Glass, Empty Space, Blue Remembered Earth or any other book I've seen mentioned.

All submitted books were considered. Only six were shortlisted. This doesn't mean that there weren't a lot of other very, very good books in contention, there definitely were.

Sadly, I think one of the issues that this conversation has highlighted - and one of the reasons why we broke our traditional judges silence more than a little with Liz Williams' article - is that it would have been theoretically possible for a different judging panel to have selected six entirely different books for the shortlist that were also by white men.

This point is rather elegantly, if accidently, made by the quote from James Nicoll that you reference where, after exoriating the shortlist, even he swaps out one white male book for another: Blue Remembered Earth for 2312.

Finally, I should mention that when Liz Williams makes the point that many of the submitted books by female writers were fantasy, this doesn't mean they were dismissed by the judging panel. If books are submitted, they are considered.

As many people have pointed out the Clarke has history in awarding the main prize to books many consider fantasy, and others don't, and the debate continues etc.

The point she is making is specific to her broader point about publishing trends both in terms of total numbers of works by female writers submitted and also what category many people would consider them to fit in. Basically there are not a lot of female writers with contracts currently producing explicitly, or at least easily definable, science fiction works in the UK.

I'll end by saying I welcome this debate, and I hope that the fact it has been spurred from a shortlist from an award with the recognition of the Clarke will be beneficial to moving things forward for the future.
18. Gareth Richard Wilson
The ideal judging panel would be completely non-sexist, and the selection of each book from the submissions would be entirely random with respect to gender. So given the submissions list, we can actually calculate how this ideal panel would behave. They'd have an 0.25 chance of picking an all-male shortlist. Two coin flips, two heads. Doesn't seem like much of an outrage to me.
Chuk Goodin
19. Chuk
I read last year's winner (The Testament of Jessie Lamb) and I was not at all impressed. I've only read the last two on this year's nominees list and would give it to Intrusion over 2312.
20. Urstoff
How anyone can charge sexism (or lack thereof) from such a tiny sample is ridiculous.

But I also don't understand the genre-wide handwringing in general. There are many great female SF authors. No, the number of female authors in SF is nowhere near the number of male authors, but why should we expect the numbers to be similar? More to the point, why does it matter? Is there similar handwringning in other genres? Are romance blogs filled with dismay that there aren't enough male romance writers? It's just a silly counterfactual not worth worrying about. If SF had a greater proportion of female writers, then...?
21. Fred Davis
"As a feminist, I am opposed to including women writers in shortlists just because they are female"

>not understanding how female shortlists work

pick one.

TANJ, even tories understand how female shortlists work, that's how bad your argument is Liz and how bad you should feel about making that argument.
22. yanjuna
@18. Actually, wouldn't the odds of all male (and all female) be, , (1/2) to the 6th power (or 1/64), which to me seems unlikely (I would bet on such odds), but far from impossible (I wouldn't be too surprised if I lost). At the risk of attacks, it seems to me that the argument presented by people who critique the shortlist seems to come down to 'we need a token female.' Can we get some opinions on which book by female author should have been on the list, and which books on the shortlist should have been taken off for that book? (I've heard some really good things about vN by Madeline Ashby, but I haven't actually read the book yet).
23. yanjuna
Part of my comments were cut for some reason. It should have read: @18. Actually, wouldn't the odds of all male (and all female) be, assuming six nomination slots and men and women are published equally, (1/2) to the 6th power (or 1/64), which to me seems unlikely (I would bet on such odds), but far from impossible (I wouldn't be too surprised if I lost). At the risk of attacks, it seems to me that the argument presented by people who critique the shortlist seems to come down to 'we need a token female.' Can we get some opinions on which book by female author should have been on the list, and which books on the shortlist should have been taken off for that book? (I've heard some really good things about vN by Madeline Ashby, but I haven't actually read the book yet).
24. Gareth Richard Wilson
Using James Nicoll's figures for the submission list, it was 79% male. 0.79 to the power of six is 0.24, slightly below two heads from two coin flips. If there is a problem, it's with the submissions list, not the judging.
Mani A
25. sn0wcrash
Fred Davis:
Thanks for that. Initially i was incredibly disappointed by Liz's statement. It's pure strawmanning.
26. ninebelow
I don't see the strawman. Williams isn't caricaturing her opponents, she is setting out her beliefs. The judges believe they have selected the six best novels and they happened to be by men therefore to have selected a book by a woman would have meant basing selection not on what the book was but who wrote the book. Williams is opposed to that in the context of the Arthur C Clarke Award (as am I).

Nor do I understand Fred Davis's bizarre reference to Tories in his suggestion that Williams does not understand how female shortlists work. Is he talking about all female shortlists? The reason that Tories and other political parties select all female candidate shortlists is to ensure a female MP. The equivalent with the Clarke Award would be the director of the award only allowing books by women to be submitted in some years so the judges had no choice but to select a female winner. Perhaps you think this is a good idea but I don't.

It is worth considering why Tories and other parties want to ensure female MPs. This is because the obvious institutional sexism of a situation where the percentage of women who are MPs is substantially lower than the percentage of women in the electorate harms their electoral ambitions. Despite this selfish reasoning, I endorse the outcome. I am completely in favour of all female shortlists and would actually like to see much more positive discrimination to correct pervasive and historical bias. But I don't think this is relevant to the Clarke because of the fundamentally different criteria for candidates ('good' versus 'best') and the radically different pool of candidates (tens of millions versus low tens).
D. Bell
27. SchuylerH
@17: Could I ask what it is that the Clarke award jurors are looking for in a novel? Is it SF, can fantasy be included and, if so, under what criteria? Is it supposed to be in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke or is it an award recognising Clarkian futurism? There just seems to be the occasional disjoint between the rules as I read them and what is voted for in practice. (for example, Perdido Street Station winning over, say, Parable of the Talents)
28. Fred Davis
"Williams isn't caricaturing her opponents, she is setting out her beliefs."

Well she's putting forth the notion that KSR's excellent mountain climbing scene... wait what? There was a novel attached to that mountain climbing scene? The hell you say... okay okay I'll read the rest of the book... lolwut they drop a house devouring monster onto african baby detector on the house devouring monster... "irrefragable", yes, because in 2312 there's obviously no local property taxes or council taxes designed to pay for maintenance of that infrastructure they just laid down that now makes those new homes unaffordable to the residents of the former slums, so clearly the Space!Neo-libs haven't just made a bunch of slum dwellers homeless and destroyed what few treasured possessions they might have had (plus any babies they left lying around) and thus are clearly somehow not the most hateful, paternalistic, condescending load of rimmers in the entire solar system... okay why are they going across the solar system to have a conversation?.. what the actual hell KSR? "There shalt be no HTTPS in the future" or something?

What did my brain do to KSR?

Anyway, she's putting forth the notion that the alternative to having an all white & male list is to have quotas! Terrible terrible lady quotas ohmuhgawd! Which, yes, is a strawman, as an non-strawman response to criticism of the award finalists would have involved explaining the ways and qualities that all the various books by female writers that were in contention lacked but which KSR's 23skidoo didn't, which would have also been a genuine explanation of her opinions and beliefs about what makes a book good. Instead there's a lot of whining about how she's against the invisible lady quota demons* and an attempt to redefine actual real life things so that her opposition to them looks good.

Of course KSR 2312 got on there because the judges ignored quality and went with the most spassshupp filled old skool "hard scifi" setting, possibly with memories of Red Mars leaning on their internal scales as well. But we're fine with that sort of bias meaning that the judges are now treating the judging of the actual quality of the fiction as secondary or even tertiary to whether it ticked the right number of skiffy trope boxes.

But never you mind that kind of clear anti-qualitative bias†, the important thing is that as a feminist (after all, it's not like someone would just lie on the internet about something like that) she believes that the invisible scourge of the quality destroying lady quotas are the only possible antithesis to the all male finalist list she helped create.

Which instantly gives us a pretty good explanation for why there's an all male shortlist:

It's an all male list this year because at least one of the judges views female writers to be sooooo intrinsically and categorically bad at writing compared to men that she considers any inclusion of women onto the finalist list to be tantamount to an intrinsic drop in the total quality of the books on the finals list.

Sorry, ladies who almost got picked for the finals, you all suuuuuuuuuuuuuck; not because of the content of your fiction or anything you can work at in the future to change, but because of the content of your pants.

A feminist told me so, so it can't be the very definition of misogyny or anything.

* Because what she presents as an all female shortlist is itself a strawman of such shortlisting practices, because yo dawg, she heard you liked strawmen.

† not even being sarcastic there: The sff community as a whole seems quite happy to have a bias toward badly written books with teh spassshups in it over anything else, and while that's the sff community's choice and a perfectly valid choice to make, it's still a pretty big elephant in the room once some nerd starts on about how sff awards are meritocratic when they aren't in the slightest; the judging criteria for all the sff awards goes, "Are there spessshups?" and if there's more than one book with the "spessshups" in it then the judging moves to stage 2: "which shups the spess harder?". Only after those highly important questions are dealt with does the judging go to minor details like "is it a good book?".
Mani A
29. sn0wcrash
It's strawmanning because she's depicting the Clarke's critics as pushing for women to be included on purely the basis of their gender. It's lazy, disingenuous, depressing and pisses me off.
30. ninebelow
Fred, I'm having trouble following your argument so can I just check I have it right:

1) You don't personally care for 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson.
2) The judges were primarily concerned with the presence of spaceships in the submitted novels rather than their literary quality.
3) Something about quotas and all female shortlists that doesn't seem to be directly connected to the Liz Williams article.


1) Liz Williams is lying about being a feminist.
2) Despite being a female writer herself, Liz Williams views female writers as intrinsically and categorically worse at writing than men.
3) Liz Williams is a misogynist.

By extension all three also apply to Juliet E McKenna and 1 and 3 apply to Ruth O'Reilly, Nickianne Moody and Robert Grant. Pretty bold.

Obviously that is a strawman representation of Fred's argument (if not his conclusions) but I can't come up with a better interpretation. sn0wcrash, have you got a more coherent criticism of the shortlist?
Steven Halter
31. stevenhalter
@24:If the judges method of choosing is to throw all of the books into a box and draw randomly then the odds of an all male choice are then:
64/82 * 63/81 * 62/80 * 61/79 * 60/78 * 59/77 ~= .214

64 is the total number of books written only by males. So, a 21% chance of getting a list of all male books with random selection. One book was jointly authored by a man and a woman. I treated that as a pick of a female author.
It is unlikely the judges are using this process. But, since the actual process is secret, we can't really evaluate the methodology actually used. (Beyond presuming that each judge picks the books they think of as best and then argues their merits.)
32. Gareth Richard Wilson
You're right, I stand corrected. But notice that random drawing is absolutely non-sexist. So you couldn't criticise it from a feminist perspective, even if it came up with an all-male shortlist. But it has to be possible for a selection process to exist that fairly considers quality while also being absolutely non-sexist. Do the Clarke Awards use such a process? No idea. An all-male shortlist doesn't provide any evidence, one way or the other, since our ideal method would produce all-male shortlists every five years anyway.
D. Bell
33. SchuylerH
@32: I think that the last time there was an all-male Clarke shortlist was 1988. By contrast, from 1988 and 2013 the Hugos had all-male shortlists in 1998, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Tom Hunter
34. TomHunter
Hi SchuylerH

Getting back to you re your question in @27

"Could I ask what it is that the Clarke award jurors are looking for in a novel?"

Am very happy to answer this as far as I can, and here goes.

As noted the prize is awarded for the best science fiction novel of the year

The definition of what criteria are used to define 'best' are left to the judging panel, who are independently nominated by the award's three supporting organisations - currently the Science Fiction Foundation, the British Science Fiction Association and the SCI-FI-LONDON film festival

The recommendations for who those judges are come from those organisations, and so aren't influenced by the award's organising directors. That said, it is a friendly and two-way discussion between us and those organising committees, not a fait acompli.

Anyway, judges may serve for a maximum of two years, with some opting to judge consecutively and others pausing between their first and second years.

So, for instance Nickianne Moody, Juliet McKenna and Robert Grant were all on the judging panel that selected Jane Rogers as last year's winner, and Liz Williams was on the judging committee that chose Zoo City. Obviously I'm mentioning these years as recent ones where a female SF writer took the prize.

The judging is overseen by Andrew Butler, our current Chair of Judges, who coordinates the debate but does not have a vote.

I am responsible for the promotion and administration of the award, and deliberately not part of the shortlisting process and am not in the room when the decision is made. I get a phone call a bit later on.

I'm explaining how the judging panel works because it's not just the definition of ewhat constitutes 'best' thatis defined by the judging panel but also the idea of what constitutes 'science fiction.'

In this way as the judges rotate so potentially does the definition of science fiction itself, which is how you can see works some people might categorizes as fantasy being nominated or winning one year and not necessarily in others.

This is what I mean when I say earlier in this thread that no book is overlooked and none are automatically dismissed because they might be seen as fantasy. They're still considered, but whether they make it to the shortlist depends entirely on the collective decision-making of the judges.

So how does that work?

Well, the call for entries goes out to publishers a short while after the previous award cycle finishes and the winner is announced, so books start coming in from say July, with a cut off point of end of December.

During this time we liaise actively with publishers on their submissions, chasing where needed and also advising on exactly the kind of question I'm answering here e.g .should they submit a certain work. We also work to call in certain books on occasion that might not automatically be considered but are of genre interest as a book has to be actively submitted by its publisher in order to be considered, and this will often come from a judge's request as they are all very well informed about the broader genre. We can't guarantee we'll get every possible book in, but the steadily rising number of submissions and submitting imprints suggest were certainly getting better.

And then the discussion begins. The judges will meet for both informal discussions as well for the formal shortlisting meeting and winner meeting, as well as continuing an ongoing dialogue via email.

At some point a (private) longlist will begin to take shape, which forms the basis of the discussion for the shortlisting meeting. To be clear this is simply a guide to the discussion and all boosk are discussed in the shortlist meeting, the longlist is simply used to add structure but a judge can appeal for any book to be reconsidered right up until the end.

Slowly that longlist is whittled down until the final six books remain, with typically some equally great books being in the cut that didn't quite make it. This is what I mean when I make the point that not shortlisting a book doesn't mean it is being dismissed or overlooked, it simply didn't make the final six.

Once the shortlist is set, I get a call and the wheels begin to turn to make the public announcement happen.

I hope that helps.
Steven Halter
35. stevenhalter
Thanks, Tom. That's good information on the process.
D. Bell
36. SchuylerH
@34: Yes, the disjoint makes sense. So, it's an award for the SF novel that this year's panel of judges liked the best, which may or may not be the same criteria as those used by last year's panel. That's the thing about the Clarke awards, whether you agree with the result or not, they are always interesting. Thanks.
37. LizW
What Tom said, essentially. As a judge in that year, I was delighted to see Zoo City win the award. We'd have been equally pleased, as a primarily female judging panel, to see a woman on the shortlist this year. This did not happen, for reasons to do with the work itself. I realise that a number of people are reading all manner of sinister reasons into our choice, but as a writer, and as someone who has been reading SFF for over 40 years now, I made my personal choices on what I considered to be the best books. I know this is a terribly difficult concept for some people to grasp, but.....

One may disagree with our choice. That's absolutely fine.

With the exception of those novels which were firmly within the fantasy bracket (if someone wants to see a vampire romance win the Clarkes, they've probably not got a great grip on the genre), all the subs were evaluated on aspects which had very little to do with gender, politics, religion or whether they had fantasy elements. Alif was NOT disqualified: it was considered very seriously, and I would certainly recommend it as a genre novel.
Tom Hunter
38. TomHunter
Always happy to help with queries on how the shortlisting process works, and apologies for a few convoluted and hastily written sentences in that last post.

Anyone with more questions is always welcome to tweet me here @ClarkeAward

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