Christopher Priest on How (NOT) To Win a Genre Award

Awards, literary or otherwise, are tricky things. To paraphrase the old saying: you can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not please all of the people all of the time.

Every author, every reader, and reviewer, and every critic has their own particular tastes and their own particular prejudices that they bring to a book. For every book that somebody loves, you can guarantee that somebody else despises it, somebody else thought it was passable, somebody else couldn't finish it, and somebody else just wasn't interested enough to pick it up.

Most awards programs try to compensate for this by having a panel of judges, ensuring that multiple opinions are represented. It's not a perfect system, but it generally results in a short-list of nominees that offer something for all tastes, even if the eventual winner divides the community.

If you're an author pursuing an award nomination, a little friendly competition is great, and there's nothing wrong with singing the praises of your own work, but denigrating the other nominees, insulting their readers, and criticizing the judges is definitely NOT going to help your cause in this year or any other.

Case in point, Christopher Priest. Wow.

In a post on his blog yesterday regarding the 2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominees, Priest basically beat his chest, whipped it out and urinated all over the nominees, then squatted amidst the mess and defecated upon the soggy pages like a sullen child. I don't think I've ever read such a mean-spirited temper tantrum, and I can't recall the last time an author disgusted me enough to ensure my shelves remain bare of anything he's ever touched.

There are polite, professional, respectful ways to disagree with an award . . . and then there's this. 

Here's what Priest had to say of the six nominees:

China Miéville, Embassytown: "Although Miéville is clearly talented, he does not work hard enough . . . It’s lazy writing . . . I also find Miéville’s lack of characterization a sign of author indifference."

Charles Stross, Rule 34: "Stross writes like an internet puppy . . . goes on being energetic and egotistical and amusing for far too long . . . To think for even one moment that this appalling and incapable piece of juvenile work might actually be chosen as winner brings on a cold sweat of fear."

Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three: "There is little to say, except that it is capable in its own way . . . The paragraphs are short, to suit the expected attention-span of the reader . . . The important words are in italics."

Drew Magary, The End Specialist: "Another nostalgic effort is Drew Magary’s The End Specialist . . . Not bad precedents with which to be compared, perhaps, but this is not a literature of reminders, of retreads, of slightly updated versions of existing works."

Sheri S. Tepper, The Waters Rising: "How can one describe it? For f*ck’s sake, it is a quest saga and it has a talking horse. There are puns on the word ‘neigh’."

Even the one book he did seem to like, he can't allow to escape without criticism:

Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb: ""It is not to my mind a wholly achieved novel . . . to be fully realized as a work of speculative fiction it needs a wider canvas, a sense that larger events are mounting in the background."

Ultimately, Priest calls the 2012 Nominees a "dreadful shortlist put together by a set of judges who were not fit for purpose" and goes on to say it doesn't matter who wins "because all of them are deficient in the ways I have described." The fault, of course, lies with mainly with a panel of judges he calls "incompetent" and demands either "be fired, or forced to resign, immediately." Some of the fault must also lie with us, however, since he makes it clear the authors nominated are just pandering to our lack of ambition, short attention spans, and general illiteracy.

Wow. Classy guy, eh?


  1. I thought Priest's article was hilarious, but partly because I could never do such a thing. I like hearing someone's honest opinion without all the sugar-coatingness such as Scalzi's article on the subject. At the same time, Scalzi has a good point that it's just the beginning of a slew of complaints that will always come around again.


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