Christopher Priest vents spleen

In a post on his blog Mr. Priest goes after this years Clarke Award nominees. Calling the short list “Dreadful” and calling out China Meiville and Charlie Stross whom he calls “an internet puppy” Stross has already started selling internet puppy t shirts.

So what do you think? Sour grapes, or legitimate beef with the award and this years selection?

Crap. Christopher Priest.

Copy pasta fail.

Can a mod fix the title?


People have vented these rants against the nominations for sf awards for decades. I may have done so myself, although in less elegant language than Mr. Priest.

He is undoubtedly right in most ways, given his definitions. But I can’t say a word about them one way or the other. I checked and none of the four books he claims would be far better short-list titles is carried in the local library system. Yet five of the six actual titles are, so it’s not merely a case of British books failing to make it to America.

Popularity affects awards. It does more than that. What is popular worms its way into the minds of readers and editors and publishers and even critics to define what is good, what exist as exemplars of the field.

Are these books good? Are they better? Are they the best? Those questions no longer have meaning. We’re peering into alternate worlds.

Whether or not it is a motivating factor, launching such an attack in a year in which one’s own work fails to be listed among the nominees will inevitably taint the attack with a definite sour grape taste.

Beyond that the entire thing comes off as boring and snobish. He didn’t like those books and fails to explain to me in any compelling or interesting way why I should look down upon them. I enjoyed Meiville’s book but wouldn’t call it the best I have ever read. I have never liked anything by Stross, his style grates upon me but I recognize that it is a matter of taste and he is perfectly good writer. Mr. Priest, I had never heard of and given how boring his rant was, I am not likely to seek out any of his work.

This Priest person comes across like a third-rate rapper trying to start a beef.

I read Priest’s blog entry now, and it isn’t as extreme as a rapper sort of call out. He thinks the nominating committee did a terrible job, and that better books were overlooked. I haven’t actually read any of the listed books but am somewhat familiar with most of the authors, and see his point though I don’t agree.

Probably in 5 years or so I will have read all those books and would be able to answer it in hindsight. He is probably right that China Mieville needs a bit of challenge if he is suddenly losing his ability to write “sense of place” - or maybe a book called Embassytown purposely lacks that? Since the title is about place (many of Mieville’s titles are actually), and a sense of place is one of the more notable features of most of Mieville’s writing… this could be significant.

The notion of Sheri Tepper writing a quest novel with a talking horse is sure wacky. I expect it isn’t much like Mercedes Lackey’s take on the subject. Possibly more like CJ Cherryh’s.

I recall having found Priest’s writing enjoyable to read, but I haven’t read any of his novels in at least 10 years.

:dubious:…because he’s black? REAAAAL nice. :smiley:

I find it odd that some of the books mentioned aren’t even published yet.

Christopher Priest the novelist (who wrote The Prestige and also the post linked in the OP) is English and white.

Christopher Priest the comic book writer (who wrote Quantum and Woody and a run of The Black Panther among other things) is American and black.


I read The Prestige many years ago and enjoyed it, but forgot it pretty quickly.

I read Rule 34 a few months ago and thought it was pretty good. Not life-changing, but a window into Scottish geekery and gay culture, and a pretty decent SF story.

Embassytown was one of my favorite novels of last year. I’m a pretty big Mieville fan, but I definitely recognize his clunkers (Un Lun Dun was awful, IMO, and Kraken left me cold). But Embassytown was great, and his two chief criticisms were IMO completely off-base.

It was a novel about language, ostentatiously and self-consciously about language, Mieville unashamedly playing with one of his favorite obsessions. Of course it was peppered with neologisms: it’s set in the distant future, and he’s suggesting that humans will continue to invent new words to deal with new concepts. This is a totally bizarre thing to object to in this novel. Certainly there are some f/sf novels with stupid neologisms–I put down a book recently when characters on the third page swore an Oathpact (not an oath, not a pact, no, an Oathpact), and another novel recently got right up my nose when its fantastic, totally-unrelated-to-our-world setting included Shelley Tanks designed to reanimate corpses. But the neologisms in Embassytown were completely within both the setting and the theme.

And no sense of place? Are you fucking with me? That novel was dripping with sense of place. Literally, given the organic fleshpods making up most of the city.

The upshot of this blog post is to make me less likely to read anything by Priest.

Having read the novel in question, I don’t think that it IS a quest novel, though there is a talking horse in it. However, it’s not a magical talking horse. In that future earth, a very few animals have regained the ability to talk, as they once did (according to Tepper). *The Waters Rising *is the sequel to A Plague of Angels, by the way.

And even though Priest claims that he’d withdraw his book from consideration, that post does seem to consist almost entirely of sour grapes.

Maybe. You can never discount that with people, and writers have enormous egos.

But I’ve been reading similar rants about science fiction awards for more than 40 years from lots of different people, some of whom I know personally. Dismissing them all as sour grapes is not just wrong but missing the point.

Or as a friend of mine said at the 2001 Hugo Award ceremonies when the name of the winner for Best Novel was announced:

Harry Fucking Potter!?

I gotta admit, that was MY reaction, too. Harry Fucking Potter? Now, if the award was for the BEST SELLING novel, yeah, HP is the winner. I just looked up the nominees for Best Novel, and I haven’t read a couple of them, but of the other two I read, both were better than HP and the Goblet of Fire.

The Hugo awards have always been a popularity contest. They’re voted on by the fans (well, the fans registered for the Worldcon, unless that’s changed since I last paid attention) so naturally they’re going to represent what most fans are interested in/excited by at the moment.

The other awards (Nebulas, Clarkes, Locuses, whatevers) may aim for higher standards but I don’t expect huge literary insights from the Hugos.

It sounds like Priest should be introduced to Sayre’s Law.

The thing is, by being a best selling novel, more of the Hugo voters have read it, and thus will vote for it (voters rarely vote for books they haven’t read). The same thing was most obvious with the post-Star Wars dramatic presentation Hugos, which nearly always went to the movie with the biggest box office.

Priest’s rant is part of the debate about what SF should be. Some, like Priest, want SF to be literary fiction with SF elements. Others think SF doesn’t have to be literary (I’m seeing that argument on some of the SFWA boards). It’s been an ongoing debate since at least the 60s and possibly before.

For me, I see SF as being in the middle: there should be literary values – good characters and good writing – in good SF, but there’s a point where it goes too far. I recently read an SF/fantasy anthology by various literary writers; the result was dismal. The writers had been successful and award-winning small press authors, but reading them was like reading through a slushpile.

I was most struck by his deconstruction of China Miéville. It’s accurate, on point, caustic while not being coarse and yet it confuses me because to me, this is Miéville’s best book by far. I am not a fan, per se, but I’ve read Perdidio Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council and Kraken - and Embassytown can be considered a vast improvement in every respect. (Albeit still a bland, mediocre book in itself.)

Interesting–as I said above, as an overall tremendous fan of Mieville who still sees great variation in his books, I thought his review was totally off-base. There are things to criticize the book for, but lacking a sense of place, and overuse of neologisms, just don’t seem to me like relevant criticisms.

Also, Christopher Priest the novelist is talented.

Jim Owsley (who uses the Nom De Plume “Christopher Priest” (presumably) to try to confuse people.)…isn’t.

Ernest Hemmingway (no, not that Hemmingway)