Voracious reader and DPhil candidate blogs about books and scholarly life.
Since I am now an official science fiction researcher, it seemed only fitting for me to attend last Wednesday’s Arthur C. Clarke Award ceremony.
The most prestigious British science fiction prize was awarded for the 29th time, and was won by the Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel for her postapocalyptic novel Station Eleven. Mandel joins an impressive list of past winners, which include Margaret Atwood, Ann Leckie and China Miéville.
The prize, which includes an annually updated cash prize of £2015 this year, was awarded in Foyles, the amazing London bookshop. Pat Cadygan, who won the prize twice herself (Synners, 1992, and Fools, 1995), opened the envelope. She emphasised that the six nominees were all amazing. Any book that can make you forget you are undergoing chemo is brilliant, and all six books had been able to do that for her.
Three women and three men were nominated, and one book was originally written in a language other than English:
Surprisingly, chair of judges Andrew M Butler remarked, all six nominations were about the end of the world. Station Eleven stood out by the way it approached this topic: the part of the book that describes life after the apocalypse is written like “a post-apocalyptic feelgood novel”. Mandel gives us hope after the apocalypse, not for humanity per se, but most importantly, for art. After a disease wipes out nearly all of humanity, the survivors try to keep themselves together. Art gives them hope: Mandel describes how a troupe of actors travels through the ruins of the United States to perform Shakespeare.
Station Eleven attracted attention earlier, when George R.R. Martin nominated the book for this year’s extremely controversial Hugo Awards. This controversy was carefully avoided at the Clarke Awards: “No sad puppies or twerking koalas here tonight,” said prize director Tom Hunter to an awkwardly grinning audience.
What set Station Eleven apart from the other nominees was the way in which the book crossed the boundaries of genres. Hunter emphasised that this is one of the most important goals of the Clarke Award: the more different publishing houses send in their books for the longlist, the better. Station Eleven’s success as a science fiction novel surprised Picador, Mandel’s UK publisher, a publishing house that does not specifically cater toward science fiction. “Authors never sent us science fiction manuscripts, that has changed now,” said Mandel’s editor, who received the prize for her. Mandel enthused via email that she was proud to have won the same prize of which her compatriot Margaret Atwood was the first recipient, in 1987.