Christopher Priest Whips Out Epeen, Engenders Clarke Award Controversy

Literature awards inevitably engender some controversy – really any award that involves subjective judgment is going to get somebody’s knickers in a twist. But it’s strange when something as esoteric as the Arthur C. Clarke Award causes enough ruckus to garner coverage in the mainstream media.

The Clarke Award – most assuredly not The Clarkie – is of course named after the grand master of science fiction himself; as he was British the award seeks to recognize British science fiction authors and their works. The shortlist for the 2012 award came out a week or so ago (I first saw the announcement on Locus’ news feed), and seemingly within nanoseconds a ruckus ensued at warp speed, a ruckus that got British news outlet The Guardian’s attention, as well as that of Irish Times blogger Christopher *ahem* Clarke. The latter seems particularly upset about Priest’s slagging of  China Miéville.

Wut? Such is life in the Internet age.

Sheesh, You’ve Already Won A Clarke Award …

Giant space bees from Futurama. They are in author Christopher Priest's bonnet.British author Christopher Priest apparently has a bee in his bonnet over this year’s shortlist, and we’re not talking an ordinary bee, or even an Africanized honey bee, apparently. We’re talking about an insect of gargantuan proportions, on the order of the dread space bee, a la Futurama.

Priest, incidentally, won a Clarke Award last year, and … wait for it … has a novel eligible – make that had – a novel eligible for this year’s award. So it seems kind of disingenuous, not to mention greedy, for him to get all bent out of shape when he thinks the shortlist is lacking. Well of course you are; you missed out on the list and the potential extra book sales that would have garnered, so you decided to generate that publicity and ensuing extra book sales another way.

On the other hand, one can’t really argue that he’s not qualified to offer an opinion; he is a published author with eleven novels under his belt, as well as having garnered a previous Clarke Award among others.

But the thing is, Priest has gone off the deep end, whipping out his epeen and going on a full-on nerd rage on his blog. It’s one thing to say you disagree with the shortlist and offer a defensible argument. It’s another to dish out the cyberspace vitriol. Furthermore, he hasn’t reserved his vitriol for the judges panel, which, again, might seem disingenuous and self serving but still understandable, perhaps. He’s also decided to attack the shortlist authors themselves.

Again, he may be qualified to do so, but it still seems like a base and classless thing to do, particularly when he has a vested professional and financial interest in all this; one would expect better of a writer of Priest’s caliber – whatever happened to the British stiff upper lip? Even sadder still, he makes elegant arguments for the novels he felt should be on the shortlist, and manages not to mention his own potential candidate, The Islanders.

With the director of the Clarke Award pooh-poohing the idea of firing the panel and suspending the awards this year, one wonders what Priest will do next. Threaten to take his toys and go home, never to write again?

It’s all rather silly, but then it’s hardly the first time; the Internet is littered with the carcasses of righteously indignant blog posts; I’ve made a few myself over the years. But if you’re interested and haven’t been following the ruckus already, check here for a good Clarke Award hullabaloo rundown at Strange Horizon’s blog, including links to a lot of other author responses – authors who seem to have exercised some decorum and restraint as befitting people of letters.

My, that last bit sounded a bit pompous. I better quit before I whip my own epeen out.

The Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best of British Science Fiction P.S. Almost forgot: here’s the 2012 shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award:

  • Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three (Gollancz)
  • Drew Magary, The End Specialist (Harper Voyager)
  • China Miéville, Embassytown (Macmillan)
  • Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
  • Charles Stross, Rule 34 (Orbit)
  • Sheri S.Tepper, The Waters Rising (Gollancz)