SAGE author wins prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award
One of the most prestigious accolades for science fiction in Britain comes in the form of The Arthur C Clarke Award, presented annually for the best science fiction novel of the year, with the aim of promoting science fiction to a wider audience.
This year we were extremely pleased to hear that SAGE author Chris Beckett, and academic at the School of Social Work, University of East Anglia, had been awarded the highly sought after prize. To celebrate this incredible achievement, we caught up with Chris to get his reaction on the award, and to find out more about what is in store for him next.
Yes, I’m very proud. The Arthur C. Clarke award is possibly the most prestigious UK award for science fiction novels and it means that the judges thought my book was the best SF novel to be published in the UK in 2012. This is tremendously good for my self-esteem, and very validating for me as a writer.
I don’t think it’s for me to say why it was selected, really, but the chair of the judges said “Beckett really makes you care for characters who are stranded light years from an Earth they have never really known.” Tom Hunter, director of the Arthur C Clarke award, said my book “wraps a subtle and slyly contemporary narrative around a classic science fiction concept”. He went on: “Ultimately, for all its alienness, this is a book about being human, our drive to tell stories about ourselves and our world, and a testament to the enduring power of the human imagination.”
This pleases me. I wanted it to be a book that was about people we could recognize and identify with.
Dark Eden is only your third novel. Can you tell us more about your plans for the future? Any insights into what you are working on at the moment?
In addition to my novels The Holy Machine and Dark Eden, I have written another novel called Marcher. It’s less well-known because to date the only edition in existence is a not very polished production published by a small US publisher and out of print.
I have recently completed a sequel to Dark Eden, to be called Gela’s Ring (also to be published by Corvus in 2014), and a new, extensively revised, edition of the novel Marcher (to be published by Newcon Press in 2014). I am currently embarking on a completely new novel (working title: Slaymaker) which deals with politics and global warming.
(By the way, in addition to novels, I have also published two short story collections, if I may take this opportunity to shamelessly plug them! The first of these collections, The Turing Test, also won a prize, the Edge Hill Short Fiction award. The second of these collections, The Peacock Cloak, is only just recently out.)
Here at SAGE we know you as the writer of some of our best selling textbooks on social work and social policy. It must be quite a change to go from writing textbooks to writing science fiction. Do you ever find that your disciplines influence each other? Where do you tend to get your inspiration from?
My second novel Marcher drew extensively on my background in social work and readers of my textbooks might recognize some of the themes in it. For example my social work textbooks usually comment on the complex relationship between words and reality in social work and caution readers against taking words and rhetoric at face value, and they often also discuss the way that social work, in spite of its emancipatory ambitions, can easily end up as an instrument of social control. The novel dramatises some of these ideas (among many other things).
My other books draw less closely on social work themes, but I suppose one big overlap between social work and novel writing is an interest in how human beings and human societies work.
As an academic author and lecturer, you must be incredibly busy, but the dedication you show to each role demonstrates that you must find it all very rewarding. What would you say are the most rewarding aspects of each?
I very much enjoy being a social work lecturer. Teaching is very satisfying when it goes well, and so is doing research and academic writing. It’s all about trying to understand things as clearly as you possibly can, and then communicating them in a way that will be interesting and useful to others. And in a way this is what I do with my fiction writing too, except that it isn’t confined to a particular subject area or a particular methodology.
With several textbooks and novels under your belt, what tips would you give to any budding writers out there writers who are looking to get into the industry – either non-fiction or fiction writing?
Well, it will sound a terrible cliché but for me much of the secret of interesting writing lies in being yourself: not trying to say what you think other people would want you to say, but telling things, as far as you possibly can, as you understand them to actually be (you might think that is an odd thing for an SF writer to say, when obviously SF involves making stuff up, but I do try, even in my SF, to write about human life as it really is).
Related to that, a principle I apply to all my writing, fiction or non-fiction, is to explain things as clearly and simply as I can.
Many thanks for your time Chris. So as one last thought, is there really an alien planet out there?
There are apparently more than a hundred and seventy billion (170,000,000,000) galaxies in the observable universe. The small ones contain 10,000,000 stars, while the largest ones can have as many as a hundred trillion stars (that’s 100,000,000,000,000). We know that many, if not most, stars have planets, and that there are also planets (like my Eden) that have no star. That is an awful lot of planets out there. I think it is beyond all reasonable doubt that life will have evolved many many times over out there, and that some of this life will have evolved an ability to think and reflect like we humans have done.
It would be nice to think that some of them have done a bit better than us at looking after their own planetary homes.