[The JRB Daily] Tade Thompson’s Rosewater wins Arthur C Clarke Award, the UK’s most prestigious prize for science fiction

British-born Yoruba writer Tade Thompson has won the 33rd Arthur C Clarke Award for his novel Rosewater.

The Arthur C Clarke Award is presented annually for the best science fiction novel published in the UK in the previous calendar year.

Thompson was announced as this year’s winner at a ceremony held at Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London. His agent Alexander Cochran collected the award on his behalf. The writer receives a check for £2,019 (about R30,000) and an engraved bookend.

Thompson is just the second African author to win the esteemed award, which was founded in 1987. South African writer Lauren Beukes won the 2011 edition of the prize for her novel Zoo City, while Nigerian–American writer Nnedi Okorafor was shortlisted in 2016 for The Book of Phoenix.

124 novels were submitted for the Arthur C Clarke Award this year, the highest number of entries ever. In May, however, Clarke Award Director Tom Hunter revealed that just seven per cent of the books nominated were written by writers of colour, which he said highlighted ‘existing inequalities lurking within our industry’ and reflected some ‘uncomfortable truths’ about the publishing world:

My personal sense is that, however small the existing small numbers of writers being published at present are, there is a definite change in the growth of readers actively seeking out their work, and that this readership is growing across a multiplicity of different demographics. As such, it’s an audience publishers of every kind would do well to engage with.

Rosewater, Thompson’s second novel, is the first book in the Wormwood Trilogy. Set in 2066, the story follows a community at the edge of a mysterious alien biodome in rural Nigeria. The dome opens once a year and heals all sick people nearby. But it begins to influence people in strange ways, and when a telepathic government agent named Kaaro learns that others like him are dying, he decides to search for an answer. Rosewater was the winner of the 2017 Nommo Award for Best Speculative Fiction Novel, and a finalist for both the 2017 John W Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and the 2018 British Science Fiction Award.

Chair of judges Andrew M Butler said: ‘Alien invasion is always a political subject, and Tade Thompson … expertly explores the nature of the alien, global power structures and pervasive technologies with a winning combination of science fictional invention, gritty plotting and sly wit.’

Judges for the 2019 Clarke Award were Kris Black, Rhian Drinkwater, Kari Maund, Chris Pak and Andrew Wallace, and Butler said the judging process was ‘an incredibly close but good-natured argument’.

Rosewater was chosen from a shortlist of six, including Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, which was nominated for the Man Booker International prize; Sue Burke’s debut novel Semiosis; Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun; Simon Stålenhag’s illustrated novel The Electric State; and Aliya Whiteley’s The Loosening Skin.

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