By Adam Roberts | March 27, 2008
A couple of brief items, foremost among them: Darren Turpin, known to some by the spritely monker Ariel, is the man who made this website. He did a fine job, too, as you can see by looking around. More, he has maintained it expertly since creating it despite my periodic attempts at smashing it up from within, and has been a friend of mine for years now: one of the most grounded, wise, good-humoured and expert men I know. The news that Orbit have finally given him gainful employment really is of the 'couldn't happen to a nicer guy' variety. It'll mean I'll need to find a new webmaster, but that's a small price to pay: congratulations, Darren, and good luck.
Other News: a couple of people have asked me whether I'll be doing a round-up review of the Clarke 08 shortlist, as has been my habit for a few years now. I'd gladly do this, but my usual place (infinity plus) has come to the end of its natural span. I talked a couple of other venues but they either didn't want me or didn't reply, so I may be spared the labour of writing the round-up this year. (I daresay I could jot some thoughts down on one of my blogs. Of course nobody reads my blogs, but that might actually be a liberating factor when it comes to the writing).
Overall it's not a shortlist about which I can say me gusto: not, although this has been the complaint of some others, on account of the proportion of 'mainstream lit' titles it features, for I don't see anything wrong in that, but because it's all rather samey. All of these books are historically-proximate alt-historical or near-future thrillers/adventure stories. Tom Hunter, the award administrator, has described the list as a 'map' of the contemporary SF scene, but if it is it's like one of those gag-maps you used to be able to buy: 'map of the world from the point of view of a Bostonite' which is two-thirds Cape Cod with other elements squashed to the horizon; or 'map of the world from the point of view of a Chelsea resident' which is 75% Sloane Square and the King's Road, with 'the north' running along the top border and nothing else there. (This sort of thing, in fact).
Or maybe Hunter is correct, and this list does indeed represent the state of SF today, rather than, say, just representing the taste of a judging panel who all happen to like reading alt-now/near-future thrillery adventure stories. But that would be a slightly depressing thing: a symptom of a genre shrinking and dessicating from the fullest scope of its imaginative possibility into a subset of airport thrillerdom. The best books on the list are probably the Baxter and the Morgan, but none of the titles here embody the mind-stretching, the sense-of-wonder, the conceptual metaphoricity and poetic, imagistic penetration of the SF that first made me fall in love with the genre. (An exception to this last judgment might be made for the Raw Shark Texts; but I found a deadening literalism to the way that novel handled its core metaphor, indebted to but lacking the sparkle of The Phantom Tollbooth; and I thought the Jaws-intertext was clunkily treated). Again, apart (to some extent) from the Baxter, they're all rather straightforward texts. Irony is not their idiom. They are books that if they are serious (about dystopia, the situation of the world today etc) are strenuously serious, and that if they are intertextual are ponderously rather than playfully intertextual. Naturally this, and that last point especially, is a statement of personal taste, not a broader aesthetic judgment: lots of people, inside and outside the genre, dislike ironic art. They prefer to know where they stand.
Finally: I learn today that my story 'Petrolpunk' has been bought by Nick Gevers for the Solaris steampunk collection Extraordinary Engines. Hurrah! The buzz surrounding this collection has been very good, and I'm chuffed to be on board. The fact that I said nice things about Nick in my previous post is an entirely unrelated matter; although my understanding is that he is indeed a tall, powerfully-built stallion of a man with an IQ in the thousands.