Pulitzer prize winner Colson Whitehead has been shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke award for science fiction, with his novel The Underground Railroad appearing on a six-book list that may be the prize’s most diverse yet.
Brought to fame by his Pulitzer win – and his selection for both former US president Barack Obama’s summer reading list and Oprah’s book club – Whitehead’s sixth novel follows two slaves who try to find freedom from their Georgia plantations by following the underground railroad: a network of safe houses in reality, Whitehead transforms the route into a literal, steampunk railway.
Alongside Whitehead is Becky Chambers, who made the 2016 shortlist with her debut The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and is nominated again for its sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit. Transgender Korean-American writer Yoon Ha Lee is listed for his debut Ninefox Gambit, as is Emma Newman for sci-fi mystery After Atlas and Israeli-born Lavie Tidhar for Central Station, set in the titular spaceport in a futuristic Tel Aviv. Eighteen years after winning for her novel Dreaming in Smoke, Tricia Sullivan rounds out the list with Occupy Me, which the Guardian called “a work of startling originality”.
While Clarke himself – author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, among a multitude of novels – might seem like the archetype of the classic science fiction author, his award has long banged the drum for other voices. Thirty years since the first Clarke award was handed out in 1987 – when the inaugural winner, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, was selected from a field including black author Samuel R Delany, Gwyneth Jones and Josephine Saxton – the award’s administrator Tom Hunter said the prize has always sought to find shortlists that were a true reflection of the genre. “For the judges, the big question is all about finding what they consider the best science fiction books of the year,” he said, adding: “I hope people will think of this as a diverse list in the best sense of the word … There is also a strong sense of cohesion and a powerful sense of just how exciting, challenging and insightful science fiction writing can be.”
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SOURCE: The Guardian