Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Dreaming in Smoke / The Extremes / Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation

One of my reading programmes is to go chronologically through the winners of the BSFA Award for Best Novel, the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Otherwise Award (formerly the James Tiptree Jr Award). In order to keep up momentum, I've decided to do all the winners of a given year simultaneously, for a better comparison. So this takes me to the awards made in the year 1999 for work done in 1998: the Clarke Award went to Tricia Sullivan's novel Dreaming in Smoke, the BSFA Best Novel to The Extremes by Christopher Priest, and the Tiptree, very unusually, to a short story, “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation by K.N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin”, by Raphael Carter. (This was the first time, and until last year the only time, that the Tiptree was awarded solely to short fiction.)

There's very little crossover between the various shortlists. The Tiptree published a "shortlist" of no less than 26 other works, and a long list of another 20, none of which was on the BSFA Best Novel or Clarke lists. (The Tiptree shortlist did include the BSFA Short Fiction winner, “La Cenerentola” by Gwyneth Jones.) The Extremes, which won the BSFA Best Novel award was on the Clarke shorlist, and The Cassini Division by Ken MacLeod was shortlisted for both BSFA and Clarke. This was the year at Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog won the Hugo for Best Novel, and the previous year's winner, Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman, published in 1997, won the Nebula because of the latter's weird nomination cycle at the time. Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents, published in 1998, won the Nebula the following year.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Dreaming in Smoke:
You can see out, and it’s big. You can see its emptiness.
I felt there was a good book in here trying to get out. It's a feminist take on human colonisation of an alien planet, spoiled by the annoyingly lazy and passive character of the protagonist, and by various dream sequences which aren't really all that descriptive and don't take the plot further. I found it rather hard to engage with, frankly, and perhaps it is a novel that demands more effort from the reader than I was in the mood to give. You can get it here.

I am happy to count all of that year's Clarke judges as friends, and no doubt they made what seemed to them the right choice, but I am really surprised that it was chosen ahead of The Extremes or The Cassini Division, both of which I enjoyed much more. (The other shortlisted books, none of whcih I had heard of let alone read, are Cavalcade by Alison Sinclair; Earth Made of Glass by John Barnes; and Time on My Hands: A Novel with Photographs by Peter Delacorte.)

Second paragraph of third chapter of The Extremes:
The problem of being a witness, as they described it, was having to decide where to be before the action began. You had to witness, be close enough and see enough so you could write a report afterwards, but you also had to survive.
I liked The Extremes a lot more - it seemed to me a bit of a departure from Priest's usual beat, set firmly in a coastal town in Kent with virtual reality, coming to terms with the ghosts of mass murder and a bit of sex all key ingredients to the plot. If anything I felt it was a bit too straightforward compared to some of Priest's other work, but it was still highly satisfactory, with a beginning, a middle and an end which all cohered from the two main characters' viewpoints. You can get it here.

As well as The Cassini Division, I have read two of the other three books on the BSFA shortlist, Inversions by Iain M. Banks and Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Anne Goonan, missing out so far on To Hold Infinity by John Meaney. I think in the end I'd have voted for Ken MacLeod over the others, though it would have been a close thing.

Second paragraph of third section of “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation by K.N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin”:
Sirsi and Botkin could not immediately go to Rajasthan, so they used samples Sirsi had previously taken in an effort to identify the gene for agenesis of gender ideation, hoping to find it in families closer to home. A preliminary analysis found six candidate genes on the x chromosome that were present in all the affected family members but none of the others. Two of these genes had well-known functions and could be discarded, but Botkin had to find and interview people with each of the other four. Ten years ago this would have been an impossible task; the availability of genetic databases made it feasible, though not precisely easy (people are understandably alarmed when asked to come in for tests based on a cell sample taken five years ago).
Of the 26 shortlisted works for the Tiptree Award, I think I have read three - Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson; Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler; and “Story of Your Life”, Ted Chiang. I think I have also read three of the long list - Children of God by Mary Doria Russell; “Oceanic” by Greg Egan and Six Moon Dance by Sheri S. Tepper. However, I think the judges got this one right, given what the Tiptree Award is meant to be about. The story is written (rather loosely) in the style of a scientific paper, explaining the authors' research into a group of people who are simply unable to distinguish gender. If you're exploring a "my god, what if?!" idea like that, there's no need for much in the way of plot or characters (though the story does have both), and it's a very good challenge to the reader's preconceptions. It's also very short. It's not available separately but you can still get the original publication here and (slightly cheaper) the reprint in a Tiptree anthology here.

Next up, the awards made in 2000 for work published in 1999: The Conqueror's Child by Suzy McKee Charnas, The Sky Road by Ken MacLeod and Distraction by Bruce Sterling.
Tags: bookblog 2020, sf: bsfa award, sf: clarke award, sf: tiptree award, writer: christopher priest, writer: tricia sullivan

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