On 31st March the Arthur C Clarke shortlist was announced, and, in a moment of madness, I decided to buy and read the six nominated books before the winner was picked on 28th April (which is, you'll no doubt have noticed, today!)
That very same day I went to my local Waterstone's and paid out a rather large chunk of money for five of the nominees (Far North was difficult to get hold of!) and embarked on my epic challenge.
Here, in summary, are my thoughts about each of the six books.
The City and The City by China Mieville: When I picked up this book, I didn't know that it was about to pick up the BSFA award, or be nominated for a Hugo, although that has now happened. What I do know is that, even without those two events occurring, I would still be holding this book up as probably the one that should and will win. I am prepared to be swayed as I read the other five books in the shortlist, but I am unsure if any can top the sheer breathtaking imagination of The City and The City. I just hope that I don't find the rest a disappointment!
Spirit by Gwyneth Jones: This is my second book of the six Arthur Clarke finalists, and it was a very different read from The City and The City. Leaving aside my enjoyment (or not) of the respective books, I can see why this book received its nomination: the worldbuilding and the sci fi elements of the novel are both weird and wonderful, and explore a future where Earth is just one of many cultures struggling to find harmony together. Where The City and The City studied nationalism and retaining the boundaries of a city state, Spirit looks to the stars and how our exploration of such can lead to petty squabbles and how warfare and politics will be massively scaled up. Hand on heart, though, I believe this one is an outsider for the win.
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding: So is this an Arthur Clarke award winner? Although my heart would like to say yes, my head is more sober and suggests no. In fact, I'm not completely sure why Retribution Falls found its way onto the short-list. The award is given for the 'best' science fiction novel published in the previous year. While Retribution Falls is a great read and a fun concept, there is little in the way of what I would deem true science in the novel. Sure, they fly in craft that are straight out of science fiction, but the aerial dog fights that take place could easily be about planes that exist right now. The presence of a daemonist in the tale puts it more into the realm of fantasy. Having now read three of the contenders for the award, I am slightly at a loss as to the reasons for this novel's inclusion. I would say this is the rank outsider.
Far North by Marcel Theroux: Well, my fourth read of the short-list contenders and yet another very different novel! In terms of writing, message, science fiction elements and concepts, I would definitely say that this is the book that can come closest to defeating The City and The City for the award. It is clever, grim and written by a superlative storyteller with an exceptionally strong voice. Moving from Retribution Falls straight into Far North has revealed just how stellar the line-up of books on the short-list is - so far each of them has offered a different perspective on the nature of science fiction literature. This is a very strong contender for the Arthur C. Clarke award.
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts: There is no doubt that Yellow Blue Tibia deserves its place on the short list - it is, again, a very different type of science fiction novel. I think what I have truly admired so far about the Arthur Clarke reads is that they are so very different, but united in some fantastic writing and stunning science fiction concepts. I certainly don't envy the judges, having now read five of the six! In my opinion, Yellow Blue Tibia is a very strong novel, but I think it is possibly too light-hearted for the award - especially when considering the impact of novels such as The City & The City and Far North.
Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson: Hmm, Galileo's Dream is yet another solid entry into the short list of six books - and, once again (I feel I am constantly repeating myself in these short analyses) it is a completely different novel from the other five. It brings the science to science fiction, in this case - exploring actual science as well as taking us on a space opera journey to future worlds. It is massively deserving of its place as a finalist, not least of which because this novel shows the continual fascination with science that gave us science fiction in the first place (I think I have expressed that in a rather clumsy manner - but it is the truth that without men such as Galileo and Newton, we wouldn't have such a desire to look at what might be achieved through the use of science). Kim Stanley Robinson's enormous affection for his subject matter shines through, and gives us a novel which is possibly the most honest of the six. I don't think it will win - but I secretly want it to.
What strikes me from reading back over those summaries that spanned the month of April is how incredibly strong this short list is - sure, there are a couple of books that I personally feel probably won't win for various reasons, but I know that other people would hand the award straight over (Yellow Blue Tibia, I'm looking at you!)
What also strikes me is that I definitely have three contenders for tonight - these being The City and The City, Far North and Galileo's Dream. I loved them all. I found them challenging, infuriating, with silky prose and awesome concepts. I liked the pared down joy of Far North, with its gentle message of hope amidst a grim future. The City and The City was sheer dizzying concept, but had an exceptional detective story to drive the narrative. Galileo's Dream was bloated at times alongside the other two lean competitors, but I lapped up the wonderful characterisation and appreciated the historical slant.
So, to pick a winner!
I don't envy the judges. AT ALL. I simply cannot comprehend how they will be picking the winner this evening.
My personal choice - and please feel free to stop by and tell me how wrong or right I am - is this:
I enjoyed reading other books more. I felt that NOTHING could compete with The City and The City. I half-wish that Retribution Falls takes the prize. But my honest analysis is that Far North will win the Arthur C Clarke award tonight.