Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

The Conqueror's Child, The Sky Road and Distraction: SF award-winners of 2000

Next in my series of posts of books that won the James Tipree Jr Award, the BSFA Award for best Novel and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in each year. I've now reached the turn of the century; these awards were made in 2000, the year I wrote reviews of all five Hugo finalists for my website, including the winner, A Deepness in the Sky; the Nebula went to Parable of the Talents (and the next year's Nebula, because of the weird eligibility system, went to Darwin's Radio which had been on the 2000 Hugo ballot). The three books combined are well over 1300 pages, the same as Alan Moore's Jerusalem and a bit shorter than Hilary Mantel's Cromwell trilogy which I was reading at the same time.

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The Tiptree Award went to The Conqueror's Child, by Suzy McKee Charnas, which was the only one that I had not read before. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
Veree sat on my lap questioning and pointing and grabbing at anything within reach. He was too shy of all these new people in a new place to go far from me, which suited me very well.
This is the fourth in a series of which the first two already came up in my Tiptree reading; I have not read the third (The Furies). They are available only in dead tree format, at least for now. The setting is an isolated world where men and women live as separate tribes, often brutalising each other when they have the opportunity; Sorrel, the narrator of some chapters, is the daughter of Alldera, the central character of earlier volumes, who is now trying to construct a lasting society for women that will be robust against male attack. Some readers see the author's take as utopian; I don't think so, I think she is showing the warts-and-all out-working of idealism, and in particular in Sorrel's relationship with her son Veree, and how she can bring up a boy in a society of women. I don't think it is an optimistic book, but it identifies the challenges of liberation in detail.

L. Timmel Duchamp, who was one of the jury that decided the award, has written a very long and very interesting piece about it here on LibraryThing. You can get The Conqueror's Child here.

None of the Tiptree short list (three other novels and four shorter pieces) was in the running for any other award apart from the Locus lists. The Tiptree long list (of eight novels and four shorter pieces) included A Civil Campaign, which was also a Hugo finalist that year and a Nebula finalist the next year, and was frankly my favourite book of the year.

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The BSFA Award went to The Sky Road, by Ken MacLeod. This is the fourth and last of the Fall Revolution series, though it works perfectly well as a standalone book (and the author thinks it is in a slightly different continuity to the third volume, but I'm not going to make a fuss). The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
The sun’s growing heat was burning off the morning mist on the loch and between the hills. I felt as though I might at any moment rise and float away myself. My eyes felt sandy and my brain felt hot, but these discomforts did not diminish the kinder glow of elation somewhere in my chest and gut. In a strange way I could hardly bear to think about Merrial – every time I did so brought on such an explosion of joy that I quivered at the knees, and I almost feared to indulge it to excess. I wanted to keep it, hoard it, dole it out to myself when I really needed it, not gulp it all down at once. (Which is of course a mistaken notion – that particular well, like all too many others, is bottomless.)
Here the setting shifts between a near-future Central Asian statelet, run by one Myra Godwin-Davidov; and a utopian anarcho-communist Scotland centuries hence, where young historian Clovis is working out what exactly Myra did to change human society and is seduced by the "tinker" Merrial (actually a member of a technologically advanced separatist tribe). MacLeod is, like Charnas, a political writer, but his interest is more in the overthrow of the class structre as a means to liberation. The book is tightly constructed and builds to a coulpe of revelations in each timeline that are both surprising and satisfying, with shafts of humour which are sometimes satirical and sometimes just Scottish. I enjoyed returning to it, and you can get it here.

The Sky Road was also a Hugo finalist the following year. One other BSFA finalist (Silver Screen, by Justina Robson) was also a Clarke finalist. I really enjoyed Eugene Byrne's ThigMoo. I am surprised to learn from this fascinating website that of all Hugo Best Novel finalists this century, now well into three figures, The Sky Road is owned by the fewest members on GoodReads; and of all BSFA finalists this century, ThigMoo is owned by the fewest Goodreaders.

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The Arthur C. Clarke Award went to Distraction by Bruce Sterling. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
‘I'm a corner-stone,’ the cinder block announced.
This too is a political book, set in a crumbling USA of 2044, whose protagonist is a political operator who switches from electoral campaigning to protecting his lover's laboratory. Some parts of the setting now seem eerily prescient:We get taken into the depths of the politics of Sterling's future America, with weak governance (Senator, Governors, President), armed militias (mostly benign), a vat-born hero, and self-funded scientific breakthroughs. It's funny and fast-paced, and has more owners on both Goodreads and LibraryThing than the other two put together. But I felt that of the three, it is the most superficial and has aged least well. Sterling was of course the apostle of cyberpunk, and the fact that this book actually has a coherent plot and interesting (if not always sympathetic) characters set it apart from some others in that genre. You can get it here.

The Clarke Award (unusually) had the strongest crossover with other ballots. Distraction had been a Hugo finalist the previous year. The shortlist included two of that year's Hugo finalists (Cryptonomicon and A Deepness in the Sky), one BSFA finalist (Silver Screen, as noted above) and a Tiptree finalist from a previous year (The Bones of Time, by Kathleen Ann Goonan).

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It's interesting that these three awards threw up three winners that are very political, in very different ways - The Conqueror's Child addressing gender politics, The Sky Road looking at the overthrow of capitalism, and Distraction with its focus on the transformative effects of communications technology on society. Not a surprise for the Tiptree, which was set up on political principles, but a bit more unusual for the two British winners. I found it a bit distressing to have to conclude that McLeod and Sterling now look Pollyannaish in their assumptions that post-Soviet separatist statelets will be a force for good in the world, or that armed American militias will be benignly idealistic and open to reasonable argument. Charnas's world, technologically degenerate and divided violently on gender politics, seems a bit too grimly plausible.

Literally as I was writing this, a couple of days ago, this year's winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award announced what she is planning to do with the prize:
Next up will be the 2001 winners: Wild Life, by Molly Gloss; Ash: A Secret History, by Mary Gentle; and Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville - once again, two that I have read and one that I haven't.

Tags: bookblog 2020, sf: bsfa award, sf: clarke award, sf: tiptree award
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