The shortlist for the 2018 Clarke Award has just been announced. The Clarke is awarded to the best science fiction novel of the year and selected from a list of novels whose UK first edition was published in the previous calendar year. The judges for the award change every year, and this year’s panel includes:
- Dave Hutchinson, British Science Fiction Association
- Gaie Sebold, British Science Fiction Association
- Paul March-Russell, Science Fiction Foundation
- Kari Maund, Science Fiction Foundation
- Charles Christian, SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival
It’s an exciting list, in terms of variety—including three debuts and a range of novels that cover a wide slice of contemporary science fiction. Here are the details.
Sea of Rust , C. Robert Cargill (Gollancz)
The war between humans and machines has been over for years. We lost. Now, Brittle wanders the wasteland the war left behind. The only thing left is scavenging parts from dead robots (or worse, dying robots) to survive. But Brittle is about to discover what comes after the war—and that they are not alone.
Cargill cleverly mixes post-apocalyptic and post-Singularity narrative tropes with Western ones to create something new and very different. The complex moral questions Brittle has to carefully ignore to survive each day become a booby-trapped landscape that combines an exploration of the veteran mindset with an increasingly personal battle for survival. One of the hardest-edged of these books, it’s also one of the most viscerally entertaining. You can read a full review by Niall Alexander.
Dreams Before the Start of Time , Anne Charnock (47North)
In 2034, Millie and Toni are trying to figure out whether they want to be mothers. Their choices, the obstacles they face, and the consequences of their decisions will change the lives of people for generations to come.
Charnock’s work is focused on character, and this is a deceptively small-focus, intimate study. It’s reminiscent of Cloud Atlas in a way, pinwheeling between characters as we move forward in time—but as the novel progresses it becomes clear just how wide a remit Charnock is aiming for, and just how successfully she covers it. This is a novel about the evolution of family and humanity and how inextricably they’re tied together. It’s a unique, challenging, and immensely successful story.
American War , Omar El Akkad (Picador)
Sarat Chestnut is a young girl when the second American Civil War begins. Her home, her family, and her future are cut away from her and Sarat becomes progressively more radicalized, a child of the war she neither understands nor wants.
El Akkad’s debut is brutal in every sense and deliberately renders characters as unsympathetically as possible. This exploration of war as both chaos and forge gives El Akkad’s character work a chance to shine and while the novel is unrelentingly grim, it’s also unrelentingly gripping.
Spaceman of Bohemia , Jaroslav Kalfař (Sceptre)
Jakub Procházka is about to make history. A scientist who is selected to be the first ever Czech astronaut and sent into space to investigate a mysterious dust cloud, Jakub discovers three things at very nearly the same time:
- He’s not a hero.
- He may have lost his wife and any chance to make up for the sacrifices she’s made on his behalf.
- He’s not alone out there.
Now, Jakub must work out how to get home, who to trust, and whether he can get a second chance.
Kalfař’s debut novel has been perfectly described as “Solaris with laughs.” Cheerfully grim, deeply weird, and strangely intimate, it’s one of those novels that sits on the outer edge of the genre and finds strange and wonderful things there. A review from Leah Schnelbach can be found here.
Gather the Daughters , Jennie Melamed (Tinder Press)
On an island off the coast of a ruined continent, ten families eke out an existence. The rules of the island are brutal; knowledge and history are rationed and girls are married as soon as they undergo the Summer of Fruition, which drags them into womanhood whether they’re ready or not. Worse still, once the women are no longer of “use,” they are ordered to commit suicide.
Resources are failing, the society is collapsing, and one summer, Caitlin Jacob, Janey Solomon, and their compatriots will discover the truth about their world and have to decide what to do about it.
Reminiscent of classics like The Handmaid’s Tale and Never Let Me Go, Gather The Daughters is an unflinching, brutal exploration of power and what people go through, and what they will inflict on others, in order to hold onto it. It’s one of the most intense and suspenseful books on the list, and all the more essential for it.
Borne , Jeff VanderMeer (4th Estate)
Mord is a colossal flying bear whose existence both defines and damages the city he lives in. Rachel is a scavenger, picking biotechnological experiments developed by the Company from the wreckage she shares with Mord. Then she finds Borne, a sea anemone-like creature wrapped in Mord’s fur, and their lives are changed forever.
Corporate espionage, climate change, biological change, and island childhoods are just a few of the elements wrapped in up in VanderMeer’s dizzying novel. It’s as bizarre as Mord itself, beautiful, brutal and unlike anything else you’ll read this year. (For more, check out our full review plus an interview with the author.)
This is a truly impressive spread of books that neatly balances the desire for action and spectacle with interrogation of some pretty complex issues. American War’s dystopia, the horrific closed-off community of Gather the Daughters, and the ruins Mord prowls across are worlds away from the gentle, scalpel-precise character drama of Dreams Before The Start of Time or the wry humour of Spaceman in Bohemia. These are all, in turn, vastly different from the pseudo-Western stylings of Sea of Rust and how well those elements mesh with the complex questions of digital identity and survivor’s guilt in Cargill’s narrative. This list represents science fiction at its most cutting-edge and proves, undeniably, just how broad the limits of the field truly are.
The winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award will be announced in a public award ceremony held in partnership with Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road, London, on Wednesday 18th July. The winner will be presented with a cheque for £2018.00 and the award itself—a commemorative engraved bookend. Honestly, I don’t envy the judges: this is going to be a very tough call…
Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer, RPG writer and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, who publish the short fiction podcasts Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Cast of Wonders, and the magazine Mothership Zeta. He blogs enthusiastically about pop culture, cooking and exercise at Alasdairstuart.com, and tweets @AlasdairStuart.