British science fiction is now in a golden age.
I say this as a happy fan and an awed colleague: the range, depth, intensity, wit and beauty of the science fiction being published in the UK these days is simply amazing. The eight wonderful writers featured here are only a representative sampling of a community of artists so strong that it is hard to explain. Add to these Brian Aldiss, Neal Asher, Iain Banks, Christopher Evans, Alasdair Gray, Colin Greenland, John Courtenay Grimwood, Peter Hamilton, Nick Harkaway, M. John Harrison, Robert Holdstock, Gwyneth Jones, Garry Kilworth, Doris Lessing, Ian R. MacLeod, China Miéville, Richard Morgan, Christopher Priest, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Jennifer Rohn, Brian Stableford, Charles Stross, Lisa Tuttle - and no doubt others I have forgotten, or am unaware of (sorry) - and one has to ask, how is it that a group of such intellectual power could be working at one time, and our time at that.
I was enormously chuffed to see my name in there, part of that genuinely exalted company. Now, if somebody staged a four way hike-off between Robinson, Le Guin, Delany and Gene Wolfe for the title 'world's greatest living science fiction author' I'd put my money on Robinson; something that only made the name-check sweeter. But then I turned the page.
Oh, I know there is a Booker prize, I've heard of it even in California - supposedly given to the best fiction published in the Commonwealth every year - but there are no Woolves on those juries, and so they judge in ignorance and give their awards to what usually turn out to be historical novels. Sometimes these are fine historical novels, written by tremendous writers; I particularly like Roddy Doyle, John Banville, Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh, and my favorite was Penelope Fitzgerald. But working, like all of us, in the rain shadow of the great modernists, they tend to do the same things the modernists did in smaller ways. A good new novel about the first world war, for instance, is still not going to tell us more than Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford. More importantly, these novels are not about now in the way science fiction is. Thus it seems to me that three or four of the last 10 Booker prizes should have gone to science fiction novels the juries hadn't read. Should I name names? Why not: Air by Geoff Ryman should have won in 2005, Life by Gwyneth Jones in 2004, and Signs of Life by M. John Harrison in 1997. Indeed this year the prize should probably go to a science fiction comedy called Yellow Blue Tibia, by Adam Roberts.
At which point I fell off my chair.