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December 16, 2010 2:15 PM   Subscribe

An open letter to all fans of Science Fiction from Tom Hunter, Director of the Arthur C. Clarke Award - The Arthur C. Clarke Award, the yearly award for best Science Fiction novel published in the UK, could be in trouble.
posted by Artw (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Perhaps if enough sci-fi fans got together and chipped in, a trust could be set up to perpetually fund the award.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:32 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seems like the kind of question that , maybe, you wouldn't really want to know the answer to.
Do fans of any art form really, deep down, care about awards like this ?(publishers and authors should, granted).
I use them occasionally to find something to watch or read, and if a favorite author wins then 'yay', but ...
I wish some of those useless hollywood awards would have this kind of soul-searching, actually.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:42 PM on December 16, 2010


I am sure the award is very important to Mr. Hunter and the staff of Serendip. If they could get a big grant, set up a trust, wow they'd be in there like the IOC!
posted by Meatbomb at 3:15 PM on December 16, 2010


Really hate to snark on Mr. Clarke here but... shouldn't they have seen this coming?

Yeah yeah eponysterical and all that
posted by hal9k at 3:46 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do fans of any art form really, deep down, care about awards like this ?

Absolutely. In general, I mean. Not necessarily in the case of the Clarke Award. Certainly for my part I'm not exactly biting my nails over its eventual fate.

BP: It would take a very wealthy benefactor contributing a hefty chunk of change to set something like that up.
posted by Justinian at 3:55 PM on December 16, 2010


I care and Hugos and Nebulas, but the Clarke award was never one I paid attention to.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:44 PM on December 16, 2010


BP: It would take a very wealthy benefactor contributing a hefty chunk of change to set something like that up

How large a trust is needed for a $2000/yr prize? If 100k sci-fi readers around the world contributed $10, the cost of a paperback, you'd have a $1M trust fund. If I'm using this calculator correctly (which I might not be), $1M might work for a long time.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:47 PM on December 16, 2010


For a $2K prize, you really only need $100,000 and a rock-bottom solid 2% interest rate. Small non-profits handle this sort of bequest routinely.

I'm actually surprised this wasn't planned for well in advance. If he wasn't interested or able to fund the entire thing himself, while he was alive he would have been a great fundraiser.
posted by dhartung at 5:35 PM on December 16, 2010


I'll bet if Matt put a banner at the top of the site, we could have a parallel MeSciFi Award foundation incorporated, registered, invested, and funded in perpetuity in less than four months.

An annual Projects or MetaTalk thread asking for nominations, then a vote/poll sidebar, and the whole thing would be vetted and decided with no paid staff necessary (apart from Matt Et al's coding and mod time).
posted by clarknova at 6:26 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


The problem with writing about the future is that we're pretty much already here.
posted by delmoi at 7:37 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem with writing about the future is that we're pretty much already here.
-- delmoi

Ha! Just you wait!
posted by eye of newt at 8:00 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


How large a trust is needed for a $2000/yr prize?

I suspect there are a few other costs as well.
posted by Artw at 10:20 PM on December 16, 2010


Does England even still have any science fiction writers besides Charles Stross? I thought they all switched to fantasy, urban and otherwise.
posted by happyroach at 11:40 PM on December 16, 2010


happyroach - you jest, surely...

I can list three before I even get to authors that mainstream (admittedly U.K.) readers may not have heard of...

If you are a lover of Sci-Fi and Banks, Reynolds and Hamilton have not crept on to your reading list in the last decade, you are missing out my friend...

Now, apart from Neil Stephenson, which US Science fiction authors are there still writing today? I thought they all switched to writing about vampires and zombies ;)

p.s. you've pulled me out of a near 2 year lurk to comment...
posted by davehat at 12:35 AM on December 17, 2010


Hmmm, the Reynolds link above is a little dated. His blog is here.
posted by davehat at 12:40 AM on December 17, 2010


Does England even still have any science fiction writers besides Charles Stross? I thought they all switched to fantasy, urban and otherwise.

Oh, you poor man.

British SF has been in a golden age over the last 2 decades, starting roughly with the advent of Iain Banks and peaking in the early to mid 2000s. It's American SF that has been in a deep rut, not British.
posted by Justinian at 1:11 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Arthur C. Clarke Award, the yearly award for best Science Fiction novel published in the UK, could be in trouble.

Well, no, not really. They no longer have secure funding (which was always a bit of a rarity and is even more so in this climate) and are currently exploring other models for funding the prize. But there is no suggestion at all that the award itself won't continue.

I suspect there are a few other costs as well.

Not really. It is a very cheap award to administer. Apart from the cash prize, it just needs a venue to hold the actual award and this is currently donated by the Sci-Fi London film festival.
posted by ninebelow at 1:15 AM on December 17, 2010


Does England even still have any science fiction writers besides Charles Stross?

As well as Stross, the following British SF novelists all have books eligible for this year's award: Ken MacLeod, Tony Ballantyne, Gary Gibson, Neal Asher, James Lovegrove, Ian Whates, Peter F Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Gavin G Smith, John Meaney, Stephen Baxter, Chris Wooding, Jaine Fenn, Chris Beckett, Iain Banks and Philip Palmer. And then there are long term British residents like Patrick Ness, Hannu Rajaniemi and Tricia Sullivan. So not quite dead yet.
posted by ninebelow at 1:22 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


ninebelow: Not really. It is a very cheap award to administer. Apart from the cash prize, it just needs a venue to hold the actual award and this is currently donated by the Sci-Fi London film festival

Sorry, but no. The Director of the Arthur C. Clarke Award didn't issue a press release because he can't figure out how to raise £2011 for next year. The work that goes into something like this is pretty enormous. You need judges, you need books for the judges, you need to be on top of your judges, you need to tabulate your results, you need to stage the event at the venue, you need to print event invitations, you need to liase with the press, you need to staff the event, and frankly you better buy all of those judges a very nice dinner before the awards and comp their tickets and travel because they just gave you 100+ hours of their life.

Running a much smaller, totally unheard of awards, my 2011 line item budget is almost €10,000 (£8,500) and the staff time for that is 100% voluntary. That's just costs. I'm really not sure how you'd do an awards as big as the Arthur C. Clarke award every year without a really good full time - maybe half-time - paid staffer at a minumum.

The £2011 is really the least of it, even with a seriously curtailed budget.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:09 AM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think it's a good thing for the health of science fiction in general and in particular British sf to have an award that's not dominated by the US as the Nebula obvioulst is and the Hugo tends to be unless Worldcon is out of the USA that year.

There's been some controversy with Clarke award over the years (probably not a bad thing) when it's gone for some left-field choices and even 'gosh' chosen stuff that's not been explicitly marketed at sf.

When I was much more involved in sf fandom I made it to a couple of the awards. It's was great to hang out in the Science Museum award after hours.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:39 AM on December 17, 2010


The work that goes into something like this is pretty enormous.

Oh, I agree. But that doesn't necessarily translate into direct costs. To go through your list of costs:

1) You need judges - free, they are all volunteers
2) You need books for the judges - free, they are provided by the publishers
3) You need to be on top of your judges - free, the chair of the judges is a volunteer
4) You need to tabulate your results - not applicable, there is nothing to tabulate
5) You need to stage the event at the venue - this is a cost but it is rolled up into the overall venue cost
6) You need to print event invitations - free, all invites are by email
7) You need to liase with the press - free, the director of the award is a volunteer
8) You need to staff the event - again, this is rolled up into the overall venue cost
9) You better buy all of those judges a very nice dinner before the awards and comp their tickets and travel because they just gave you 100+ hours of their life - that might be nice but it isn't necessary and it doesn't happen right now

I'm really not sure how you'd do an awards as big as the Arthur C. Clarke award every year without a really good full time - maybe half-time - paid staffer at a minumum.

It seems to have managed okay for twenty five years. I really think you are over-estimating the size of the Clarke; in terms of prestige, it is a major award but in terms of actual delivery, it is modest.

As I read the open letter, it isn't about raising £2011 for this year's prize. As you say, the director could come up with that relatively easily. Instead, it is about the long term future of the award in all its aspects, not just financial.
posted by ninebelow at 4:05 AM on December 17, 2010


to have an award that's not dominated by the US as the Nebula obvioulst is

The Nebula is given by Science Fiction Writers of America, so that's sort of understandable. You're not necessarily saying it isn't, but that inference might be incorrectly drawn by someone who doesn't know much about the Nebulas, so I thought I'd clarify. You don't have to be American to join SFWA (and Mieville is on the shortlist for Best Novel) but it will obviously skew in that direction.

and the Hugo tends to be unless Worldcon is out of the USA that year.

This, on the other hand, is I think unfair and untrue. Let's check out the Best Novel nominees for the last decade. Here are the number of American nominees and total nominees.

2010: 3/6
2009: 2/5
2008: 2/5
2007: 3/5
2006: 2/5
2005: 0/5 (!)
2004: 2/5
2003: 3/5
2002: 2/6
2001: 1/5

So over the last decade, Americans have been nominated for Best Novel 20 times, out of 52 nominations. Far from "dominating" the Hugos, Americans tend to be greatly underrepresented. In 2005 not a single American was nominated for Best Novel! It's true that one was outside the USA... but the three years in which half or more of the nominees were American (2003, 2007, and 2010) were in Toronto, Yokohama, and Melbourne. In 2001 only one nominee was American and that was in Philly. 2/6 in 2002 and that was San Jose.

So, actually, the Best Novel Hugo tends to be less dominated by American authors when the Worldcon is in America. I'd probably agree that the fact that there were no Americans at all nominated in 2005 was partly (partly!) due to the location over the pond, but history tells us that there would have been no more than 1 or 2 American nominees even had it been in America... and it's possible there still would have been no American nominees. The Clarke, Stross, and Mieville novels would all undoubtedly been nominated in the USA. Would Banks and McDonald have made the cut here? I'm not sure.

But in any case, I think I've pretty much put to bed the idea that the Hugo Award (at least in what is generally considered the most prestigious category) is in any sense American-dominated.

Beanplate!
posted by Justinian at 12:54 PM on December 17, 2010


Can't say I'm all teary after wasting my time on 75 pages of The City and the City. If that was their best, I shudder to think of their worst.
posted by Twang at 1:58 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think I've pretty much put to bed the idea that the Hugo Award (at least in what is generally considered the most prestigious category) is in any sense American-dominated.

The Hugo has been more representative of non-US sf in recent years but scanning through the novel winners during the last century I can only see three non-Americans, John Brunner and Arthur C Clarke (twice) and you have to go quite a way back before you hit those. When I was getting into sf during the 80s it was taken as read that the Hugo was American.

Can't say I'm all teary after wasting my time on 75 pages of The City and the City. If that was their best, I shudder to think of their worst.

The multiple awards for The City and the City baffles me too... I got to the end and admittedly it's a great central idea but incredibly poorly executed.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:22 AM on December 18, 2010


Weirdly all the problems I had with The City and the City were with the last 75 pages, I thought it was going rather well up till then.
posted by Artw at 7:37 AM on December 18, 2010


The Hugo has been more representative of non-US sf in recent years but scanning through the novel winners during the last century I can only see three non-Americans, John Brunner and Arthur C Clarke (twice) and you have to go quite a way back before you hit those. When I was getting into sf during the 80s it was taken as read that the Hugo was American.

But that's because starting with Campbell and Astounding, SF was an American genre for so very long! It was as much an American genre of literature as jazz was an American genre of music. What are the non-American equivalents of LASFS, NESFA, The Hydra Club, etc, during the middle or latter parts of the last century? The vast majority of the giants of SF until quite recently were American, and the non-Americans who could reasonably be included in that group were nominated for the Hugo and/or won it fairly often.

Brunner, as you mention, won it for Zanzibar... and he was nominated for The Whole Man and The Squares of the City. The Shockwave Rider probably deserved to be nominated, but holy crap 1975 was a strong ballot and it's hard to get rid of any of the other nominees. Clarke was nominated four times and won twice, not including the Retro Hugo for CE.

There were certainly other major non-American writers of SF before the 90s (Aldiss, Harrison, etc) but SF was clearly, as I said, an American genre which sprang up around Amazing Stories, Astounding, Campbell, Gernsback, the Futurians, and so on. Clarke was among this group and, as discussed, was well represented in the Hugo Awards. And apart from (mostly) Americans and (some) Brits, you're essentially left with Stanislaw Lem. But he wasn't writing in English and was associated with, you know, the commies.

So older Hugos were dominated by Americans because SF was dominated by Americans, and the Hugo Awards reflected that. For the last 10 or 15 years Americans have been, as I pointed out, underrepresented in the Hugos as the genre has ceased to be an American genre.

If your experience with SF is mostly from the 80s I understand the viewpoint, but I don't think it is accurate to make a statement about a current Award based on the marketplace of 25 years ago. It's sort of like saying that Michael Jordan dominates basketball. It may have once been true, but he hasn't played in ages.
posted by Justinian at 2:18 PM on December 18, 2010


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