March 30th, 2012
Whether you’re annoyed or amused by Christopher Priest’s broadside against the Clarke Award shortlist depends on how you rate the writers he attacked. For me, it was a mixed bag. On the one hand I loved his description of Sheri “genocide is too a proper tool for solving ecological problem” Tepper’s The Waters Rising:
how can one describe it? For fuck’s sake, it is a quest saga and it has a talking horse. There are puns on the word ‘neigh’.
Which is nicely hateful to a deserving target. But how to take his judgement of Charlie Stross:
Stross writes like an internet puppy: energetically, egotistically, sometimes amusingly, sometimes affectingly, but always irritatingly, and goes on being energetic and egotistical and amusing for far too long. You wait nervously for the unattractive exhaustion which will lead to a piss-soaked carpet.
Charlie decided to take it as a joke and brought out a line of t-shirts to celebrate. Which is probably the best attitude to take as writer. Now you may know that I’m a bit of a Stross fan myself, but I can still see where Priest is coming from. Charlie can be quite enthusiastic about some very geeky things and if you don’t share those interests this might just be a bit wearing at novel length. But this is a question of taste more than of worth. Nobody can like every science fiction novel ever written and unless you want to argue that nobody should write novels like Rule 34, this isn’t a legitimate complaint.
His complaints about “PC Plod characters” and “och-aye dialogue” are more factual, but I find both of them unjustified. If you write a police procedural you’re bound to have coppers while Charlie has lived north of the border long enough to have a good ear for proper Scottish accents; he’s certainly no worse than a true Scotsman like Ian Rankin.
Meanwhile what Charlie Stross has tried to do with Rule 34 and in which for me at least he succeeded for the most part is to write a believable, proper near future science fiction thriller, in a future that we could actually be living in a few years from now. So for example there’s the subplot of exactly what a small time crook is creating with his illegal three-d printer/matter fab: creating highly realistic sex doll facsimiles of five year old girls for pedophiles. That is something you wouldn’t really imagine as an element of your standard near future setting, but you wouldn’t be surprised to be reading about in the newspaper in a decade or so.
So whether or not Rule 34 was the best sf novel published in Britain last year, it is a credible candidate and Priest’s irritation with Charlie’s writing style blinds him to this. Remains to argue why Priest wrote this attack in the first place, which is probably not, as Damien G. Walter wants to argue a belated jealousy of J. G. Ballard. More likely it’s just general irritation with a shortlist that ignores several worthy candidates for far weaker ones, expressed more strongly than other people might’ve done.