A celebration of sci-fi and good writing, the Arthur C. Clarke Award has been an annual event for more than three decades. I don’t really consider myself a sci-fi reader as such (my tastes don’t really lie within any particular genre), but I would certainly never turn my nose up at a good book if it happens to fall into that particular category. And, when it comes to good books, this award has good form: their first winner was an obscure little novel called The Handmaid’s Tale.
My friend Vicky and I went along to this year’s award ceremony after spotting the event on the Foyles’ website. I hadn’t read any of this year’s shortlist, but two of the titles (Becky Chambers’ A Closed and Common Orbit, and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad) were both high up on my TBR. What better opportunity (read: excuse) for me to buy them?
The night itself was enjoyable, albeit very different to the one other award event I have experienced, the Bailey’s Prize shortlisted readings. It was a lot more informal, with guests standing around chatting to one another with ample servings of wine until the Award’s Director, Tom Hunter, took to the stage. While discussing the shortlistees, he mentioned that Barack Obama is a fan of Whitehead’s novel, having made it the last book he read before stepping down last November. As such, Hunter pointed out, The Underground Railroad is the last book known to have been read in the White House. Cue much laughter.
Of course, Whitehead went on to be announced this year’s winner. He was unable to attend the ceremony, which, while a little disappointing, was completely understandable: given that The Underground Railroad has already won a Pulitzer, a National Book Award, and had just that day been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the man is rightly in high demand.
Indeed, while last year’s recipient, Adrian Tchaikovsky, came onstage to announce the winner, none of this year’s shortlisted authors made a public appearance. If they were at the event, they presumably mingled among the crowd. I can only blame this presumption for the fact that, after the event ended, I approached a smartly dressed young woman and asked her if she was Becky Chambers.
Turned out she wasn’t. It was rather embarrassing.