discussions genre stuff

SF vs The Man Booker

I’ve written a piece on SF and the Man Booker prize over at We Love This Book, a new-ish site run by the folks at Bookseller magazine. Reckon it should stir up a few thoughts, especially as I’ve made some suggestions over what SFF novels should have been up for the award.

Tomorrow sees the release of the longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize for fiction, and, forgive me for jumping the gun, but I wanted to explore why science fiction and fantasy books rarely get the gold.

In fact, I wanted to start by exploring why sf and fantasy books are not included on the longlists at all, but I quickly realised what nonsense that was – sf and fantasy books have been nominated: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is about cloning, David Mitchell’s books often include elements of what many would call genre, Margaret Atwood is the reluctant fundamentalist when it comes to science fiction, Salman Rushdie’s magical realist tales are occasionally more fantastical than many fantasy novels.

However, despite a huge literary heritage of sf and fantasy books in the UK, very rarely do clearly marked “genre” titles make the longlists, let alone win. Some argue that there is, as sf writer Adam Roberts put it: “[a] literary apartheid keeping genre science fiction away from the respectable literary establishment” but I think the reasons are simpler than this.

Read the rest. My suggestions for the awards were more based on the spirit of some of the best genre offered at the time.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

10 replies on “SF vs The Man Booker”

I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just me. I don’t really grasp the purpose of awards beyond reinforcing, stabilizing and saying “this is what we want,” which seems to be the opposite of innovation, which is theoretically what art is all about.

Not so with this argument. For me, it’s a case of highlighting when readers live in genre denial, but also a hand out to those who would willingly accept some genre reading suggestions as a starting point. If I pull a few newbies into the genre, job done.

I’m not sure we do. I certainly don’t see it like that. It’s just another genre, one that’s not too distant from our own at times. Shining a massive publicity spotlight on the genre (which the Man Booker is) would be no terrible thing.

If I’m not mistaken, the Man Booker Prize is for Commonwealth writers, not American ones, which would eliminate many of the alternates for past years that you suggest 😉

As for the rest of it, I’m of the mindset these days that if a work covers a certain range that is expected of the prize shortlist, then it would qualify. From what I’ve read of the past years’ nominees, very few genre-oriented works would qualify. No skin off my back if no overt genre ones are nominated this year.

As for Miéville’s book, I think its central premise is too flawed for it to be a serious contender, but then again, I might be in the minority opinion when it comes to that work.

Yes, as I said in the comments, it’s more about the spirit of things – technically none of them could qualify if they weren’t submitted by publishers.

It’s interesting, the range thing. I mean, the judges change each year, so perhaps it’s simply what publishers send that they think might qualify? Because sometimes there can be interesting winners – Vernon God Little being one such example.

Perhaps the CM book would be a touch to SF-nal for the award. TC&TC was far more accessible for mainstream tastes, but I’d certainly like it to do well.

What are your thoughts on the actual longlist, which does contain several genre books? A Western, two pseudo-Victorian adventure stories, and a dystopian sci-fi, plus two or three crime novels.

I would like to see Miéville up for the Booker one day, but he’s published by Tor – do you think they would even bother submitting?

Hi Grace – I confess to not being overly familiar with the long-list: to my knowledge, in previous years it has always drawn from a fairly wide range of genres. And as I mention in the article, it has drawn heavily on SF in the past (albeit from a mainstream imprint), so it’s business as usual in many senses.

As for Miéville – I believe he’s actually published by Pan Macmillan and not their SFF imprint, though, of course, his editor there is in charge of the SFF imprint, to confuse things even further! And, to my knowledge, he’s entered into such awards quite frequently.

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