[The JRB Daily] Zambian author Namwali Serpell shortlisted for Arthur C Clarke Award, the UK’s most prestigious prize for science fiction

The shortlist for the 34th Arthur C Clarke Award has been announced, including The Old Drift by Zambian author Namwali Serpell.

The Arthur C Clarke Award is presented annually for the best science fiction novel published in the UK in the previous calendar year. It is named after British author Arthur C Clarke, who gave a grant to establish the award in 1987.

Writing in The JRB, Wamuwi Mbao called The Old Drift a ‘blazing debut’ that ‘constructs a labyrinthine tower of narrative, beginning in the muggy past and ending in Anthropocene disaster’.

‘It is a wittily erudite novel,’ he wrote, ‘one that abounds with historical detail and techno-fantasy and mixes them so that we can no longer separate the one from the other.’

2020 Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist

  • The City in the Middle of the Night  by Charlie Jane Anders
  • The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
  • A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
  • The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
  • Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

Any ‘full-length’ science fiction novel written or translated into English is eligible for the prize, provided that it was first published in the United Kingdom during the prior calendar year, and there is no restriction on the nationality of the author. A title must be actively submitted by a publisher or self-published author in order to be considered.

This year’s six-book shortlist was chosen from 122 titles. The prize publishes the full list of submissions received every year (with over a decade of data now publicly available) in order to track and review the science fiction field in the UK, especially in terms of diversity. The full list of eligible submissions for 2020 can be seen here.

Last year’s winner was British-born Yoruba writer Tade Thompson, for his novel Rosewater. Thompson became only 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.

The winner receives an engraved bookend and a prize consisting of a number of pounds sterling equal to the current year, such as £2020 (about R44,000) for the year 2020.

The award judges are nominated by the award’s supporting organisations, currently the British Science Fiction Association, the Science Fiction Foundation and the Sci-Fi-London film festival.

The prize committee plans to announce the winner in September 2020.

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