2018 Clarke Award Shortlist

This year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist has been announced. It’s a heady combination of debuts and veterans and covers a surprising, and pleasingly, broad spectrum of SF.

Sea of Rust, C. Robert Cargill (Gollancz)

Brittle is a veteran of the war against humanity. Now, Brittle survives body to body, scavenging parts from dead robots and haunted by their role in the war. But Brittle’s day-by-day existence is about to be threatened. They’re about to discover what happened after the war and find that the massive changes the world has undergone have the most personal stakes possible.

Reminiscent of post-apocalyptic classics like “A Boy and His Dog” and the Mad Max films, Cargill’s first SF novel is an impressive piece of work. He’s previously written two fantasy novels, Dreams and Shadows and Queen of the Dark Things, as well as some tabletop RPG work. He’s best known for his scriptwriting, including Sinister, Sinister 2, Doctor Strange, and As They Continue to Fall.

Dreams Before the Start of Time, Anne Charnock (47North)

Millie and Toni are best friends who are facing the same question: whether to have children. Their decisions, and what defines those choices, will change the lives of their families for generations to come.  As the novel explores the lives of Millie, Toni, and their descendants, Charnock explores what the family of the future will look like, as well as how society and pregnancy will change. Deceptively intimate, this is big-idea SF reminiscent of the societal changes mapped across generational sagas like Foundation or the Mars trilogy.

However, the novel is defined by character, and Charnock’s precision work there. This carries over from her previous novels, A Calculated Life and Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, both of which explore the collision between art, science, and society, and both of which received wide acclaim when released.

American War, Omar El Akkad (Picador)

Sarat Chestnut’s actions during the Second American Civil War provide the canvas and plot for Omar El Akkad’s debut novel. As the horrors of war threaten to break Sarat, she becomes radicalized and numb to the horrors she’s living through  but not to the anger she feels.

El Akkad’s debut has a strong voice all its own and approaches some traditional post- and pre-apocalyptic tropes in surprising ways. The novel shares some ground with Delilah S. Dawson’s Hit, Stephen King’s The Long Walk, and elements of The Hunger Games, but takes very different directions than all three.

Spaceman of Bohemia, Jaroslav Kalfař (Sceptre)

Jakub Procházka is a scientist, a hero, an astronaut, and way out of his depth. As the first Czech astronaut, he’s dispatched to investigate a strange dust cloud, and in doing so discovers that while we may not be alone in the universe, Jakub has done far too good a job of isolating himself.

Another debut, this was described by one reviewer, accurately, as “Solaris with laughs.” It’s got the same psychological depth as Lem’s classic, but mixed with some interesting narrative choices that make it loosely similar in approach to James Smythe’s The Explorer and Katie Khan’s Hold Back The Stars. Like other books on this list, it takes wildly different paths through the common tropes, but reading those novels in formation with this would still be rewarding.

Gather the Daughters, Jennie Melamed (Tinder Press)

On an island off the coast of a ruined mainland, women have two jobs: to reproduce, and die when they’re no longer “useful.” But the latest generation of daughters are all too aware of their situation, and over the course of a “Summer of Fruition,” they begin to push against the walls of their world.

Jennie Melamed’s debut is unflinching and often horrific. It’s also, like so many on this shortlist, a novel that looks at some of genre’s established approaches and does radically new things with them. Thematically it’s loosely similar to The Handmaid’s Tale and Never Let Me Go, but Melamed keeps the focus close in, refusing to let the novel relax into worldbuilding and context. That close focus makes for a claustrophobic reading experience and marks this as a novel that continues the evolution of the modern dystopia.

Borne, Jeff VanderMeer (4th Estate)

Rachel is a scavenger living in a city unmade by the impossible. Mord, a massive, flying bear whose presence sits halfway between that of a god and a rampaging kaiju, defines and rules the city. Rachel simply survives, until she pulls a sea-anemone-like creature from Mord’s fur. She names it Borne, and it changes everything.

An exploration of survival, the biological Singularity, and what happens after the world ends, Borne is a dizzying work from the author of the Southern Reach trilogy and others. Anyone coming here looking for the feral biology of Annihilation is going to be impressed and get more than they bargained for. Vandermeer builds his city in the ruins of cyberpunk, and discovers something beautiful there.

The winner will be announced at a public award ceremony, held in partnership with Foyles Bookshop, in London on July 18, 2018. The winner will be presented with a check for £2,018 and a commemorative engraved bookend. For more information, see the Clarke Award website.

-Alasdair Stuart

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