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Science Fiction post-9/11 (Part 2)

February 2, 2013

This combined social science / literary analysis lark is harder than it looks! Frequently asked questions of scholars who look at books or films at conferences always include one or more of the following: ‘why these books?’, ‘how did you sample?’, ‘what makes these films significant?’ and so on – indeed I had a bit of a go at an unfortunate PhD researcher at a conference last year on exactly this basis (sorry, Michael Krause, your paper was actually really interesting). So I have been trying to be systematic. So the first thing I did was to compile a longlist of English-language SF since 9/11.  Basically, I went through all the major US and British SF award shortlists for novels from 2002 onwards. The awards I covered were: the Hugo, the Nebula, the John W. Campbell Memorial award, Locus, the Philip K. Dick, the Arthur C. Clarke, the British Science Fiction Association award and the James Tiptree Jr.

The reason for using awards was to address the ‘importance question’. I could also have used ‘best of year’ lists from a number of online publications and bloggers but where would you stop? In any case, many of these awards are already crowdsourced and fan-based, at least in their nomination procedures. Inevitably, some smart alec will say ‘but you didn’t include ‘award X’. Again, there’s a limit. So although the PKD (which only covers new paperback fiction) and the Tiptree (focused on gender) are relatively minor, they are well-regarded and expand the ground to include a lot more edgy and innovative work, whereas the Lambda award (LGBT sf) is pretty small. Likewise I did not include Canadian and Australian association awards because they tend to have a very restricted pool to draw on and the best authors from those countries are published internationally anyway and, in the case of Canada at least, are very influential in the international associations.

All the shortlisted novels for all the awards added up to about 350 novels: too many to do any kind of useful analysis of any more than the most superficial kind with the time I have – although I may come back to this longer longlist later. So I tightened my criteria to novels that had either won any of the major award or been shortlisted for at least two. This leaves me with 117 novels, about half of which I have already read. I am now in a dilemma. This is still too many to deal with. I did produce a shortlist of just award-winners, 68 novels (there were a few ties in some years for some awards), but can you consider a novel that won the only award for which it was shortlisted to be more ‘significant’ than a novel that was shortlisted for 2, 3, 4 or 5 awards but didn’t win any? And here I also got into questions of personal preference: with this selection, and this is even more the case if I reduce the list further to only novels that won an award and were also shortlisted for at least one other (38), a lot of the novels that I find most interesting and which I would like to discuss because 1. they are good; and 2. they actually make some interesting post-9/11 points, for example, Lavie Tidhar‘s Osama (nominated for the BSFA 2011 and the JWCM 2012 but not a winner) and Kathleen Ann Goonan‘s In War Times (the 2008 JWCM winner, but not shortlisted for any of the other major awards) drop off. So, somehow I am going to have to do make some broad considerations of the 117, and select within these on the basis of either representativeness with regard to some particular themes I identify from the broad survey, or just because I think they are worth discussing in more depth.

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