Christopher Priest Shouts at Clouds
Or, more accurately, at the nominees for this year’s Clarke Award, and the jury which selected them. Mr. Priest, for those not aware, is a science fiction and fantasy writer most famous (in the US, anyway) for The Prestige, which was made into a film by director Christopher Nolan. The Clarke Award is a juried science fiction and fantasy award for works published in Britain; Mr. Priest won it in 2003, for his novel The Separation.
I made comment about this on a Metafilter thread on the issue, which I will reproduce in its entirety here:
“Mr. Priest’s contribution is the first this year in what is sure to be a lot of barking at clouds concerning science fiction award nomination slates, all of which will essentially boil down to ‘my tastes are different than yours, and your tastes are wrong.’ This format of complaint will no doubt pick up considerably, as it does on an annual basis, regardless of what is nominated, when the Hugo slate is announced in a couple of weeks.
“That said, as a representative of the format, it’s pretty good: Mr. Priest writes it with an engaging amount of piss and vinegar, varies his tone from target to target (more in sorrow than in anger for Mr. Mieville, blithe condescension for Mr. Stross, outright contempt for Ms. Tepper), and to his credit, offers viable suggestions for an alternative slate, at least one of which, Mr. Tidhar’s Osama, is in my opinion eminently slate-worthy. So for connoisseurs of the form, this is top-shelf stuff, much better than the usual entitled bleating of the tendentiously aggrieved.
“Whether Mr. Priest is right in his cane-shaking is, of course, a matter of personal taste. But with a piece like this, that’s always the case.”
On my end of things, I suspect Mr. Priest and I have different tastes, as I liked Rule 34, have been a Tepper fan of long standing, and believe that if Embassytown is China Mieville underachieving, we should all slack as well as he. But of course that’s my point, and in any event it’s a rare nomination slate for any literary award that does not have someone railing against it as a parade of mediocrities, or worse.
Over at his blog, critic Damien Walter offers a psychological portrait of Mr. Priest to explain his invective regarding the Clarke list. I can’t speak to the accuracy of Mr. Walter’s mind modeling, knowing neither him nor Mr. Priest, but in a general sense I don’t think we have to reach that far into Mr. Priest’s psyche for why he’s had his eruption. Sometimes, one is just cranky about a list of works for which one has little enthusiasm or connection, which purports to exemplify the best of one’s field.
At the end of his rant, Mr. Priest inevitably does what it seems most people who write these sorts of things inevitably do, which is to blame other people for not having their personal tastes. This is where he loses the plot. As I’ve noted before, there’s a difference between saying “This is not what I would have done” and “Why did you do this? You suck.” The first is a perfectly valid thing to say; the second assumes the primacy of one’s personal opinion over everyone else’s. Mr. Priest may feel well qualified to assert such a thing, but no one else is obliged to agree with him. “Incompetent” does not actually mean “valuing the works I do not.”
What should Mr. Priest’s punishment be? Quite obviously, to head up next year’s Clarke Award jury. I would wish him joy in the task.
Update: Charlie Stross, whom Mr. Priest referred to as an “Internet puppy,” is making t-shirts, featuring the image at the top of the entry, made by his mighty spouse Feòrag NicBhrìde. I’m totally getting one.
Update, 3/30: Follow-up entry here.