Today the Interwebs have been all aflutter with the news of the Arthur Clarke award shortlist.
Here are the six shortlisted books:
1) Spirit by Gwyneth Jones
Bibi (it means princess) is the sole survivor of a massacre. Lady Nef, the General's wife, stops the General taking her as a concubine, winning Bibi's eternal and passionate devotion. Years later, a diplomatic mission to a supposedly friendly planet ends in disaster. Bibi, now a junior officer in Lady Nef's household, is incarcerated with her mistress in the notorious high-security prison on Fenmu. Lady Nef, 150 years old when arrested, dies in prison; she bequeaths to Bibi her rank, her level of access to the AI systems that permeate the Diaspora of inhabited planets, and a highly secret set of 4-space co-ordinates. Bibi uses Lady Nef's death to escape from Fenmu, finds Spirit, an instantaneous-transit space pod, and follows Lady Nef's co-ordinates to a treasure beyond price: a virgin, perfect, uninhabited planet. Soon after this, the mysterious, fantastically wealthy Princess of Bois Dormant makes her debut in the high society of Speranza, the Diaspora's capital city. Thus disguised, Bibi sets out to discover why she and her mistress were condemned to a living hell; and to punish the guilty. Twenty years have passed: Lady Nef's enemies now rule Speranza. As she uncovers a forgotten, ruthless and far-reaching conspiracy, Bibi's vengeance is transformed into a project of world-changing reparation.
2) The City and The City by China Mieville
When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Bes el, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlu must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.
3) Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
Russia, 1946, the Nazis recently defeated. Stalin gathers half a dozen of the top Soviet science fiction authors in a dacha in the countryside somewhere. Convinced that the defeat of America is only a few years away, and equally convinced that the Soviet Union needs a massive external threat to hold it together, to give it purpose and direction, he tells the writers: 'I want you to concoct a story about aliens poised to invade earth ...I want it to be massively detailed, and completely believable. If you need props and evidence to back it up, then we can create them. But when America is defeated, your story must be so convincing that the whole population of Soviet Russia believes in it--the population of the whole world!' The little group of writers gets down to the task and spends months working on it. But then new orders come from Moscow: they are told to drop the project; Stalin has changed his mind; forget everything about it. So they do. They get on with their lives in their various ways; some of them survive the remainder of Stalin's rule, the changes of the 50s and 60s. And then, in the aftermath of Chernobyl, the survivors gather again, because something strange has started to happen. The story they invented in 1946 is starting to come true...
4) Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson
Late Renaissance Italy abounds in alchemy and Aristotle, yet it trembles on the brink of the modern world. Galileo's new telescope encapsulates all the contradictions of this emerging reality. Then one night a stranger presents a different type of telescope for Galileo to peer through, enabling him to see the world of humans three thousand years hence. Galileo will soon find himself straddling two worlds, the medieval and the modern. By day his life unfurls in early seventeenth century Italy; by night he is transported through dimensions of time and space no other man of his time could possibly comprehend. Inexorably, Galileo faces trial for religious crimes in his own time, while in the new world he discovers, where science assures men that they can perform wonders, but does not tell them what wonders to perform, he is revered.
5) Far North by Marcel Theroux
Every day I buckle on my guns and go out to patrol this dingy city. Out on the far northern border of a failed state, Makepeace patrols the ruins of a dying city and tries to keep its unruly inhabitants in check. Into this cold, isolated world comes evidence that life is flourishing elsewhere - a refugee from the vast emptiness of forest, whose existence inspires Makepeace to take to the road to reconnect with human society. What Makepeace finds is a world unravelling, stockaded villages enforcing a rough and uncertain justice, mysterious slave camps labouring to harness the little understood technologies of a vanished civilization. But Makepeace's journey also leads to unexpected human contact, tenderness, and the dark secrets behind this frozen world. "Far North" leads the reader on a quest through an unforgettable arctic landscape, from humanity's origins to its likely end. Bleak, haunting, spare - and yet ultimately hopeful, the novel is suffused with an ecstatic awareness of the world's fragility and beauty, and its unexpected ability to recover from our worst trespasses.
6) Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, leader of a small and highly dysfunctional band of layabouts. An inveterate womaniser and rogue, he and his gang make a living on the wrong side of the law, avoiding the heavily armed flying frigates of the Coalition Navy. With their trio of ragged fighter craft, they run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves. So a hot tip on a cargo freighter loaded with valuables seems like a great prospect for an easy heist and a fast buck. Until the heist goes wrong, and the freighter explodes. Suddenly Frey isn't just a nuisance anymore - he's public enemy number one, with the Coalition Navy on his tail and contractors hired to take him down. But Frey knows something they don't. That freighter was rigged to blow, and Frey has been framed to take the fall. If he wants to prove it, he's going to have to catch the real culprit. He must face liars and lovers, dogfights and gunfights, Dukes and daemons. It's going to take all his criminal talents to prove he's not the criminal they think he is...
I have a rather crazy idea. The winner of this award is being announced on Wednesday 28th April - before then I want to have read as many of these six as feasibly possible (hopefully all of them!) so that I can judge for myself whether the panel make the right decision. This also links rather nicely into Mark Chitty's Sci Fi Appreciation Month for April being held over at Walker of Worlds!
I accept this is a rather mad challenge with only 29 days to get through six rather hefty tomes, so you might see failure rather than success, but I am keen to read more sci fi and this seems an excellent way to jump on board.
Look out for reviews and updates on this throughout April.