Guardian.co.uk: South African author wins Arthur C Clarke award
Lauren Beukes honoured with top science fiction prize for her novel Zoo City, set in an alternate Johannesburg
South African author Lauren Beukes has won the UK's top science fiction prize, the Arthur C Clarke award, seeing off the favourite, Ian McDonald, with a story of the criminal underclass in an alternate Johannesburg.
Published by the tiny UK press Angry Robot, Zoo City beat not only McDonald, but also the US National Book award winner Richard Powers and the Guardian children's fiction prize winner Patrick Ness.
Speaking after the "unexpected" result, Beukes said she felt "like Gwyneth Paltrow – but I promise I won't burst into tears".
"I had a speech prepared and it was curse you McDonald," she said. South Africa, is an "an incredible place to live ... and write about", she added. "It's really where science fiction is. It's in the developing world, it's first world, it's third world – the way we use technology is different to the way it's used elsewhere. This book is about magic and technology and it's very special to be here."
Described as "Jeff Noon crossed with Raymond Chandler", Zoo City tells of the festering Zoo City slum, where psychic criminal guilt takes the form of an animal familiar and where Zinzi December, looking for missing pop starlet Songweza, uncovers secrets that the local crime lord and dark magician wants to stay hidden.
According to judge and author Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Zoo City was the "clear winner".
"Zoo City filters brutal social honesty through a stunning imagination to produce a world recognisably ours and obviously different," he said. "The plotting is tight, the characterisation strong and the writing superb."
Chair of judges Paul Billinger agreed, describing the novel as a book that "realises the enormous potential of SF literature, and as a piece of social commentary it is unsurpassed in the field".
Beukes wins £2011, and becomes the ninth woman to take the Arthur C Clarke prize since Margaret Atwood first won it 25 years ago. She was presented with the award last night (Wednesday 27 April) by China Miéville, who last year won it for a record-breaking third time with his novel The City and the City.
The author later revealed on Twitter – whose users she had earlier thanked for their advice "on good places to dump a body in Johannesburg" – that "those are red wine stains down the front of my dress in the Clarke award photos".
McDonald, meanwhile, might have missed out on the Arthur C Clarke to Beukes, but he can comfort himself with the fact that his tale of a near-future Istanbul, The Dervish House, beat the South African author to the British Science Fiction Association award for best novel on Tuesday – an award he has now won with each of his last three novels. McDonald was also shortlisted for the Hugo best novel prize earlier this week.
"It seems extraordinary to think that Ian McDonald has won [the BSFA award] for each of his last three novels until you read him, and realise he really is that good. The Dervish House may even be his most complete achievement, vigorous and enthralling," said Niall Harrison, editor in chief of Strange Horizons. The BSFA prize is voted for by members of the British Science Fiction Association.