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A Pointer To Perfection
An interview with the 2002 Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominees

conducted by Sandy Auden

Arthur C. Clarke Award
The Arthur C. Clarke Award
The Arthur C. Clarke Award is awarded every year to the best science fiction novel which received its first British publication during the previous calendar year. The Award is chosen by jury. The Award was established with a generous grant from Arthur C. Clarke with the intention of encouraging science fiction in Britain. The Award was set up in 1986 and the first winner was announced in 1987. The Award consists of an inscribed plaque in the form of a bookend, and a cheque. The Award is administered jointly by the British Science Fiction and the Science Fiction Foundation, each of whom provides two judges each year. Recently, the Science Museum has joined the Award and provides one judge each year.
Being on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award is one of the most prestigious places an author could find themselves. Each year, the Award shortlist exists as a pointer to quality science fiction and fantasy novels and some satisfying stories. So what are the must-reads of 2002?

Pashazade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood is an opulent Byzantine romp of a whodunit through an alternate future history. With its African setting, there were several fun aspects for the author in writing it. 'Getting to go to Tunis was pretty good,' Grimwood says. 'So was eating lots of unnecessary meals in London's Middle Eastern and North African cafes to check out the food. I also had an excuse to buy cartloads of North African dance and rai CDs. And then there was the hunting down of old prints and maps of El Iskandryia. All those were great. But the most fun, if I'm serious about it, was a point towards the end of the second draft when I suddenly realised that things were actually coming together. That was when I worked out who'd killed Lady Nafisa and why. I live for that moment, every book.'

Peter F. Hamilton's Fallen Dragon is a taut story of planetary exploitation that is thinly disguised as interstellar exploration. With a hard dose of action and even a little romance, Hamilton also wanted to maintain a high degree of realism. 'It was important to bring economics into star-flight,' he says. 'Most people just assume it will be cheap and easy, I wanted to take a different approach. Hopefully it won't be as difficult as I portrayed it here, but I don't think it will ever be the same as catching a plane for a package holiday.' He touches on several themes within the story but, he says, 'there's mainly the question of where our current technological development is taking us, and consequently from that, who has the right to decide the areas of development. These decisions affect us just as much as political democratic choices, but they seem to be done entirely out of the public domain.'

With Bold as Love, Gwyneth Jones has created a mesmerising world that is falling apart at the seams. It's a place of hardship and humanity. 'Bold As Love is set at the time of Dissolution, when the nations of Mainland Britain are parting company,' Jones says. 'There has been a big economic crash, and anti-globalisation and eco-warriors have become a terrifying force. It's a story of disasters, everything just keeps on getting worse -- an Islamic separatist war in Yorkshire, an armada of Boat People coming across the North Sea, storms, floods, fuel starvation, no transport, the collapse of the internet. But it's also about weird science, and the possibilities for an amazing future, if people somehow manage to keep things together. A lot of what I've "predicted" isn't unlikely. I think I wanted to say that, maybe, we're genuinely pushing the envelope, to the point where modern civilisation is in danger of being swept away by a sudden, shocking collapse. And if that happens, we'll have to find new competencies and radical solutions, very fast.'

Revealing The Secret of Life, Paul McAuley's novel pointedly pierces the world of corporate espionage and the manipulation of scientific advances. The story is grounded in the author's past experience. 'I used to be a scientist,' McAuley explains, 'and I wanted to get across an idea of how scientists think, and what the culture of science is like. I also wanted to outline the entire history of life on Earth, and emphasise that microbial life is more ancient, varied and pervasive than so-called 'higher' organisms like grass, butterflies, or us. Overall, it was fun trying to think like a bona fide genius and I've always wanted to get intimate with Mars.'

Taking a thought-provoking look at technology and the concept of individual identity is Justina Robson's Mappa Mundi. A book of cascading ideas, it didn't always flow easily onto the page, as Robson explains, 'In Mappa Mundi the technology is a mind-exposing device which shows that not only are we not in charge of the big stuff, we're not even in charge of ourselves; the self is an after-the-fact imaginative fiction, run in a dysfunctional memory which cannot tell its own fabrications from "reality." The SF technology is exposed as a memetic construct, driven in a memetic ecology which is analogous to genetic ecology, and no more moral, nor subject to human reason, than the Darwinian processes of life. I tried to make this explicit in the structure of the book and in the constant relation of the characters to their own Legends so that everything they do can be read as an interpretation of their own life story, whatever that really is (and it isn't what they necessarily think it is, of course). So, you can see why this was such a difficult book to write!'

And last, but by no means least, is a haunting examination of death and the great beyond in Passage by Connie Willis. 'I find the idea of death, the ultimate mystery, fascinating,' Willis admits. 'People talk about sex as being the great secret that separates children from adults, but this is ridiculous. The terrible secret -- that makes us grow up when we find it out -- is that we die, and that nothing lasts forever. How to come to terms with these terrible truths is the job of our whole adult lives. But any book about death is really a book about life -- how, given death, should we live? What matters? What part of us do we want to live on afterwards, and how can we make that happen? Usually the only times we think about these things is when they're forced on us by personal or public tragedies, but we need to think about them. That's why I wrote the book -- so I could think about it for the three years I worked on the project. And so the reader could think about it, too. And maybe, just maybe, come to terms with it a little.'

The winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Bold as Love, was announced on May 18th 2002.

(This interview first appeared on Sci Fi Channel Europe.)

Copyright © 2005 by Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for The Third Alternative and Interzone magazines and a combination of all the above for The Alien Online. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.

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