Blogging the BSFA Award Shortlists – Non-Fiction

I have a dilemma. Some of will know and others may have guessed from the coincidence of names that my partner, Paul Kincaid, is nominated in this category for a series of posts he made about the Hugo-nominated novels last year on Big Other. It will be perfectly obvious to one and all that I plan to give him my top vote so I am not going to waste any time trying to justify that decision (though I firmly believe that Paul is a very fine critic indeed). Sometimes the heart rules the head and that’s all there is to it. That, and I’d love to see him finally win a popular award for his criticism.

Even without my unique moral dilemma, this category is a real bitch to deal with. I hugely admire everyone nominated, and don’t really want to have to make a choice at all. Also, given the different formats involved (blog, podcast, book) it’s not simply a matter of comparing like with like. No obvious order has emerged as I’ve reacquainted myself with the nominations so I shall have to reason my way through this some other way.

Of the five nominations, Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty is an obvious anomaly. To begin with, there seems to be no agreement on whether it’s non-fiction or a novel, and there has been some controversy as to whether it should be nominated in Best Non-Fiction at all. I’m going to stick my neck out here and say I actually think it’s in the right place. Spufford’s own introduction makes clear that Red Plenty is a hybrid piece, and indeed raises a number of interesting questions about the nature of non-fiction that I haven’t got time to deal with now but which I plan to come back to after Easter.

Myself, I am thinking of it as a biography of a moment in history, and biography is, I’m quite prepared to argue, as much about fiction as it is about non-fiction. However, the deal-breaker today is ‘how science fictional is this book?’, and I think the answer has to be ‘not quite science-fictional enough for a BSFA Award’. It’s certainly examining important ideas that have shaped the world we know, and I grant you there is something more than passingly unreal about the subject, but ultimately I don’t think it passes my test. So, regretfully, I’m placing it fifth in my list of votes.

Fourth, I’m putting Adam Roberts’ heroic series of posts on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time , in which he describes his responses to reading all eleven volumes. They’re incredibly funny, also incredibly perceptive and informative about the ways in which epic fantasy works. But, and there has to be a ‘but’ otherwise they wouldn’t be in fourth place, Roberts inevitably becomes the victim of the series he’s reading, simply because after a while there is no more to be said. There were moments when I wondered if I’d strayed into some weird genre-related version of Super Size Me. Having said that, the posts are still really funny and I now hurt from laughing.

Third, I’m placing the Coode Street podcasts. I’ve only begun following podcasts with any degree of seriousness in the last year (alright, I admit it’s because it’s only in the last year I have finally figured out how to make my podcast download program actually download the podcasts automatically). I like Coode Street in part because I like the cheerful interactions of the participants, I like the wide-ranging discussions, I like the regularity of the podcasts and I like the fact that I get to eavesdrop on some fascinating conversations between people I wouldn’t normally get a chance to listen to.

I think it’s fairly obvious by now that my personal interest in this category is in critical discussion, and that is why I’ve placed Abigail Nussbaum’s review of With Both Feet In the Clouds on her blog, Asking the Wrong Questions, second. What can I say? I wish I’d written this review. It does everything I look for in a long review. It introduces me to the book, gives me a flavour of its content, engages with that content makes me want to go out and buy the book immediately.

So, in this category, I’ll be voting as follows:

1 – Paul Kincaid for Blogging the Hugos<
2 – Abigail Nussbaum for With Both Feet in the Clouds
3 – Jonathan Strahan and Gary K Wolfe (and guests) for the Notes From Coode Street podcast
4 – Adam Roberts for his review of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series in 11 instalments
5 – Francis Spufford for Red Plenty

Mostly, I’d just like to give everyone else second place and be done with it.

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One thought on “Blogging the BSFA Award Shortlists – Non-Fiction

  1. nwhyte

    Apart from the Coode Street podcasts, which I did not get around to listening to, this is exactly the same as my own order of preferences. And I'm not in a relationship with Paul. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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