Christopher Priest Calls for ACC Award Heads!


Oct 23, 2008
Christopher Priest is pissed and Charles Stross is amused.

I have to say, I was debating buying Hull Zero Three and I think Priest has finally convinced me to do so. He's also encouraged others to buy Rule 34 and I wouldn't rule that one out, either.

That said, I haven't read anything on the list (or mentioned as being off it), so have no real opinion on the merits of the shortlist or Priest's rant (though there's an obvious type of bias I recognize vividly and usually dismiss) but any one thing that gets compared to both Ellison and Spinrad deserves to be spread about. (Straight line.)

Ian Whates

Author and Editor
Sep 8, 2006
I've just heard from Tom Hunter, the Arthur C Clarke awards administrator, that he's about to post a response on the thread about this controversy that has arisen on the Guardian newspaper site.

As someone who counts Tom, Chris Priest, and several of this year's and recent years' judges as friends, I find the whole incident deeply regrettable... but Chris never has been one to mince his words.

This will make for a lengthy post, but I think it's worth reproducing Tom's comments here:

The first year I attended the Clarke Award ceremony was 2003, coincidently the year that Christopher Priest won the prize for his novel The Separation.

This was way before I had anything to do with the official organisation of the award, and I was just a part of the audience. I found out later that a significant part of that audience might have felt that M. John Harrison's novel Light might have been a better and more deserving winner. Note the double use of might there, I'm speculating on the judges' decision just as much as anyone else was.

I suspect though that Christopher Priest has no problem at all with the competencies of the judging panel that year. No call to arms, no handing back of the award or the prize money, and indeed why should there be just because some peers in the audience didn't agree with the decision.

I've read Light and I've read The Separation, and if I were a judge I'd have a huge challenge trying to narrow a decision to just one book, and that's just with those two, and not including the other four excellent books nominated that year, and just me alone making a decision, not a room of five judges.

Every year when the Clarke Award shortlist is discussed and challenged and ranted about, and yes all three happen every single year, there's always one group of people who's voice is missing for a reason: the Clarke Award judging panel.

The appointed task of our five judges is to read all of the books, to sift and weigh and discuss their relative merits, and to select from that complete submissions list a shortlist of six books, and then a single winner. Not four books, or eight books. No 'also recommended' or runner-up prizes.

Their other appointed task is to discuss their collective decision with each other, but not so much in public. After all the individual tastes of panelists will be different from collectively made decisions, and while it's one thing for some on the outside to disagree with that decision it's completely another to ask the judges to have to rise up and defend against every sling and arrow of outrageous accusation.

When Christopher Priest calls this a poor year for science fiction, I have to politely disagree. Sixty books submitted from twenty-five different publishing imprints in the UK is not, in my eyes, a weak showing, and in fact this is one of the highest submission rates the Clarke has ever had. I can concede that perhaps the year was, for Christopher at least, one where there was a poor showing of the kinds of books he enjoys, or perhaps more accurately that reflect back to him a vision of the way he believes science fiction should be, but a poor year for the genre as a whole it definitely was not.

The one piece of criticism I definitely don't accept though is the suggestion that our judging panel were anything less than fit for purpose.

Each year the judges are nominated by the Clarke Award’s supporting organizations, in this case the British Science Fiction Association, The Science Fiction Foundation and the SCI-Fi-LONDON film festival. Three very reputable and established organisations and entirely capable of selecting individuals with the knowledge and skill to be part of the judging panel. The comments thread above, Christopher Priest’s included, show the variety of diverse opinions that can be brought to bear on our genre. Perhaps if we had a shortlist of 10 books some of the books listed above might be included, and certainly I would happily recommend any of those writers myself, but that’s not a given, and maybe a longer shortlist would have failed to reflect Christopher’s view of the SFnal landscape even more.

When discussing awards I have often made the point that just because a favourite book doesn’t make a shortlist or claim a prize it shouldn’t stop anyone loving that book just as much. This happens to me all of the time too.

Christopher Priest is entitled to his opinion about the state of modern science fiction and what books, including his, might have made for a preferable shortlist within those criteria, but I stand by the decisions of our judging panel this year, just as I do that of the panel back in 2003, and I hope that in time Christopher will come to appreciate both the challenges and the efforts of our judging panel as much as I do.

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2008
Oh dear. He's ever so cross, isn't he? I wonder what Mark Billingham would have to say about it all?


Well-Known Member
May 8, 2006
I am also acquainted with the Clarke judges - well, three of them, anyway. I've also read, and admire, Chris Priest's fiction. I'll admit to being a bit disappointed by this year's Clarke shortlist, though I don't think the judges have "failed" per se in their task. For whatever reason, they chose books I wouldn't have chosen myself. Priest's rant is entertaining, and in some areas absolutely correct, but he does lose it a little towards the end. (And the start is not so good either.)

Priest's feelings towards the shortlist do not invalidate the contribution he's made to the genre. Nor should the fact he doesn't like a book prompt someone to read that book. I'm more tempted to read Hull Zero Three because it's been shortlisted than because Priest says it didn't deserve to be shortlisted. I probably wouldn't have bothered if not for the Clarke. OTOH, I have no intention of ever reading the Tepper. And I'll have to try Halting State before I decide to give Rule 34 a go.


Transcontinental intergalactic tea drinker
Sep 13, 2011
Offices on Earth, Haumea, and at Galactic Core.
I'm not sure, but Mr Priest may have just made me consider buying Sheri S Tepper's The Waters Rising;) - I'm in the mood for a talking horse book.:)

I've no knowledge of the man himself, but he does come across in this as a bit sniffy. These are the same sort of comments I've heard about literary fiction awards. And music awards, for that matter.

Oh dear. He's ever so cross, isn't he? I wonder what Mark Billingham would have to say about it all?
Something 'laddish', no doubt. ;)


None The Wiser
Jul 24, 2003
The thing about Christopher Priest is.....I think he has fantastic ideas but when I read one of his books, I never feel that I'm actually reading it....I'm fighting with it. There's always a good story in there somewhere if I can just track it down.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that he has his faults too.


Well-Known Member
Apr 1, 2007
I find it very entertaining, fresh that a highly rated,respected author like Priest would react this much to one award among many SF awards. If you can talk about the works, their merit its very interesting. Not some fuss because some urban fantasy author won the award or something.

He made good points about Meiville winning for the fourth time and the message it sends, not to talk about that again.... Although his reviews about the books up for the award doesnt change anything for me.


Non Bio
Staff member
Jan 5, 2001
Way on Down South, London Town
a question that is often asked: what is an award like the Clarke actually for? Well, obviously to reward a writer who is seen to have done well that year. But there is the less often admitted reward for the sponsor, in this case the late Arthur C. Clarke, who evidently liked the idea of a literary award named after him.

Is that really the point of Awards? - Simply to reward a writer that has done well.

And does a poor choice (if it really was) really denigrate the good name of the sponsor?

Surely, like the X-Factor and Britain's got Talent, all awards are simply popularity contests? Is anyone seriously suggesting that the winners are more literally worthy than the rest of the short-list?

I would suggest instead that the point of them is too highlight a book or author that some people may have missed, and to make them read something they otherwise would have not. Every person has different tastes and surely no one expects the judges of a competition to sit with god-like omnipotence.

Another question though, why is there such disagreement every single year over various literary awards? I don't see the same fervent anger expressed about Oscar, Bafta, Brit or Grammy results (Except when Jarvis Cocker pointed his bottom at Michael Jackson.)


Oct 11, 2007
Johannesburg, SA
I think he is entitled to his opinion when I give it to him. Anyways, some authors you can see a mile away don't deserve the award and some get nominated just because of who they are. Its like the Oscars, I find that only musicals or gender bending movies win the best movie category and then the best director is someone else, makes no sense to, that's why I don't watch it anymore. Why can't a thriller or SF movie win? I know the Return of the King won, but that was probably the first and last for at least the next 30 years. And it really was a great movie, but the Kings Speech was just wel...crap.

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