Christopher Priest and the Dreadful Clarke Award

Last week, the 2012 shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Awards was announced. And then all hell broke loose.

First, to the shortlist. Here are the six titles:

It’s an interesting list, ranging from traditional hard SF (the Bear book) to a much more literary take (Jessie Lamb, which was also longlisted for the Booker). I was surprised to see Tepper on the list—I haven’t liked her work since Grass, really—but it didn’t seem earth-shattering. But then Christopher Priest—who won the Clarke for his book The Prestige in 2003–threw a temper tantrum on his blog.

Priest first listed four books that he believed should have made the list:

And then he proceeded to dismember five of the six actual honorees (he spared Jessie Lamb, which he called the “only one which I think is something we should be proud of.”) China Mieville, he believes, is “under-achieving”; Charles Stross’s book is an “appalling and incapable piece of juvenile work”; Drew Magary looks backward ihstead of forward; Sheri Tepper’s book is a “quest saga, and it has a talking horse.” Greg Bear gets off relatively lightly; his novel “is capable in its own way, … and it keeps alive the great tradition of the SF of the 1940s and 1950s where people get in spaceships to go somewhere to do something.” All in all, Priest proclaims, “We have a dreadful shortlist put together by a set of judges who were not fit for purpose. They were incompetent.” His solution is to fire the judging panel, have the chairman of the Clarke Awards resign, and cancel the 2012 award ceremony.

You will be shocked to hear that the people who run the Clarke Award have no intention of doing any such thing.

Now, I like a good rant as much as the next person, and Heaven knows I would be struck by lightning if I criticized someone for calling a literary judging panel “incompetent,” given that I have frequently speculated that the Booker judges might be taking some kind of mind-altering drugs just before voting on the longlist. But something about a previous winner—and, it must be noted, a previous winner who also had a book eligible for the award—posting this so publicly smacks of bad manners at best and ferocious, soul-eating jealousy at worst. Full disclosure: I’ve only read one of these books, Jessie Lamb, although several of them have been on my radar (I’m still raising a skeptical eyebrow at Sheri Tepper’s inclusion). But it seems impossible that they are really as terrible as Priest claims. (And hey – some of us like books where people get in spaceships to go somewhere to do something.)

Because Priest is well-known, and a former winner, and because his rant was so over the top, the Internet has erupted. Neil Williamson wonders what’s wrong with honoring books because they are entertaining. (Interestingly, this is a question that has come up since Friday’s announcement that the merely “entertaining” The Sisters Brothers bested the more literary–but also more flawed, in my opinion–Open City.) Damien Walters psychoanalyzes Priest and diagnoses him with an acute case of sour grapes. John Scalzi suggests giving Priest a consequence for his bad behavior: making him head up the jury next year. (I think that’s brilliant.) There’s an animated gif.  You can buy T-shirts,courtesy of nominee and amazingly good sport Charles Stross.

Yes, there is seriously a T-shirt commemorating a literary award kerfuffle. If it weren’t for the high cost of shipping from the UK, I would totally buy one.

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2 Comments to Christopher Priest and the Dreadful Clarke Award

  1. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    April 2, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    You know what’s funny about Priest’s rant? The Bear is dreadful, just dreadful.

  1. By on April 9, 2012 at 12:06 am
  2. By on April 10, 2012 at 8:32 pm
  3. By on April 19, 2012 at 11:01 am

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