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Christopher Priest, Grand Old Man of British Science Fiction, launches an outspoken Harlan Ellison-style assault on the Arthur C. Clarke Awards! Whackiness ensues.

Alas, Mr Priest doesn't appear to have a twitter handle. But you can buy the tee shirt anyway.

(Update: we also sell official Laundry coffee mugs.)



Exhibit A as to how different people like different things.
Priest obviously had issues with the earlier Adam Roberts stories. So did I, barely finishing "Stone" and the one with the yellow cover and orthogonal gravity.
Yet he also hates Rule 34, which although I have not read yet, I expect to enjoy.

It would be interesting to see what differences there are between our good host and Drew Magary in terms of vernacular style, given that PRiest thinks Charlie fails to write such stuff but Magary does.


First class response! I applaud...


Charlie, I think lovingly formatting his critique in the form of a Letter Patent, printing it on some expensive paper of some sort, and asking him to endorse it next time you see him is in order.


Some people get very passionate about what they like and dislike, and that passion can come over as a somewhat less-than-diplomatic attack on what they dislike.

This was not the first splenetic attack on the SF awards systems, and I doubt it will be the last. I think Priest is wrong — most such attacks in general are — but I'd be more worried if attacks didn't happen at all, because that would mean that the field was dead and nobody cared any more.

I will note the following:

1) Even being a professional diplomat doesn't stop some otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people coming to illiberal and misconceived positions on SF.

2) Priest wrote at least one work — Inverted World — that has been stuck in my imagination since I first read it over 35 years ago.

Elder statesmen frequently get cranky, it comes with the territory.


Actually, I agree with him that Wake Up and Dream should be on the shortlist, and that Hull Zero Three shouldn't.


I would like to make two observations at this point:

a) I am one of those authors who can't read fiction for pleasure while busy writing it during the day job. Which means I'm always way behind on my reading. With the result that I have only read two of the shortlisted novels, my own included.

b) Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.


When one person takes on an institution based on their own authority two things can happen:
1) they win because the institution was trivial and therefore not worth the effort. They look foolish.
2) they lose and look foolish for picking an unwinnable fight.
Invariant outcome: foolishness.


A book with words like "girn" and "gram" has made the Arthur C. Clarke award shortlist. HAVE WE LIVED AND FOUGHT IN VAIN?


That kicks ass! One of the best written rants ever --- I laughed continually.

I can't think of a better compliment a lovingly crafted hate-letter that leads to a drunken mental break-down. Awesome!


Congratulations, Charlie! I think... I didn't know that your little shared island had it's own Pat Robertson. I don't know whether congratulations or sympathies are in order: please assume whichever you feel is appropriate.

There will be offers to purchase portions of your piss-stained carpet. I urge you to firmly reject them. :)



John Scalzi wrote:

“’s pretty good: Mr. Priest writes it with an engaging amount of piss and vinegar, varies his tone from target to target (more in sorrow than in anger for Mr. Mieville, blithe condescension for Mr. Stross, outright contempt for Ms. Tepper), and to his credit, offers viable suggestions for an alternative slate, at least one of which, Mr. Tidhar’s Osama, is in my opinion eminently slate-worthy. So for connoisseurs of the form, this is top-shelf stuff, much better than the usual entitled bleating of the tendentiously aggrieved."

Scalzi also proposes that Mr. Priest should be punished for his rant by being forced to head up next years Clarke award jury.


No award for telling a good story and entertaining the reader, unfortunately. Except being on a best seller list.


Good rant, I give it an eight out of ten. It's splenetic, full of inventive invectives, yet proposes interesting alternatives. And it results in more merchandise to feed our esteemed host with! Which I will do presently. :)


It's probably just my age, but that rant reminds me of Tony Hancock, especially his line "What about Magna Carta? Did she die in vain?"


Does the Clarke Awards jury actually pick its shortlist by the kind of horsetrading that Priest describes? I'm a bit surprised. The Prometheus Awards shortlist is the product of ranked choices voting by the judging committee (aka "Australian ballot" to Americans), with a couple of minor procedural tweaks; I had taken it for granted that other award shortlists were generally produced by similar means, at least in the sf community.

I'm not sure I'd want to argue that the ranked choices voting method produces superior results; it's just what we've used for quite a while. On the other hand, we have often vigorous debate over the merits of nominees, but I've never seen any horsetrading. That strikes me as a good thing, but I'm a libertarian, so of course it would strike me that way. . . .


Ah, to be the sci-fi literary hipster.
"How can you like that? It's so... popular."


It is almost as though he is accusing our esteemed host of being not quite literary enough.


Charlie, does it hurt to be the kicked puppy, even a little? I know it's the sort of thing that'd make me want to spend two hours (days, whatever) brooding and questioning all my life choices. Oh well, I read your novels and I, for one, have excellent taste.


And now in the Grauniad.


I know "the lurkers support me in email" is a bit passé, but will "William Gibson supports me on Twitter" pass muster?


Hah, yes, that would do nicely.


To me, this looks like a fairly standard high-art criticism of popular art. ~"The craft is poor and there is crass pandering."

Not really being qualified to judge high art, I will take the word of others that his criticisms from that POV are at least plausible, but I have two observations:

1. The SF I love is popular art. I may be becoming less so with age, but I'm basically a groundling, as are most SF readers.

2. I seem to recall that's Clarke's craft was *terrible*. (To be fair, the only pandering I recall was sci/tech pandering.)


I am ordering the mug right now!


I'd suggest turning up to your next couple of events with a tray and a bag of kitty litter labelled 'in case of emergencies'...


Christopher Priest was born five months later than me.

These younger people are so excitable.


Cliche - the first to use it is a genius, the rest who follow are...


Mr. Priest was concerned that if he didn't give birth to this particular rant immediately, his glass legs would shatter.

I'd compose a long rant claiming to be the rough draft of Priest's missive, in which the meanderings of Admiral Robard from Singularlity Sky was interspersed with parts of Priest's complaint, but I've got to leave for work. (I've done about 32 hours in the last three days and I am tired and cranky like you wouldn't believe.)

Being in a hurry, I'll simply say that Priest's complaint has "Sore Loser" and "Whining Maggot" written all over it, and that it should be taken about as seriously as the drunken rantings of any old guy who's had a few too many. Someone should pat Priest on the back a couple of times, make appropriate commiserating noises, and call him a cab, since he obviously shouldn't be driving right now.

[[ Moderator: Please do not descend into name calling on this issue ]]

BTW, Charlie, I think the "Have We Lived and Died In Vain" quote would make a wonderful coffee cup, all in black of course, particularly if paired with a photo of your profile with appropriately Satanic lighting. I'm sure enough people have said "Have We Lived and Died In Vain" that Priest can't claim copyright... (Gawd Above Forbid that someone write a science fiction story in which someone goes someplace on a space ship and does something!)

Suffice it to say, Charlie, that your books have been awarded the Alex Seal of Approval, and that makes you proof against all claims of communism, witchcraft, and puppyhood, even if such claims are made by obnoxious old men with glass legs.

Meanwhile, I'm sure Christopher Priest would object to my short paragraphs and italicizations.


And more power to you, Charlie, for your response to Christopher Priest. That kind of self-indulgent crankyness deserves to be laughed at, and we all know how much people like to laugh at puppies.

I admit to not having read any of the shortlist titles except Rule 34 and Hull Zero Three (I guess this is my year for numerology). While I liked Rule 34 better, I think Greg Bear did a good job on his book, and certainly doesn't deserve the scorn Christopher Priest dumped on him any more than you did.

Never having met Mr. Priest, my mind supplied Peter O'Toole's voice for the rant as I read it. His rich, plummy tones counterpointed the bile and acid of the words nicely. I suggest casting him for it when they do the biopic of your life.

Since I can't tweet to Mr. Priest, I'll leave my reply to him here:

It's better to set out one lawnchair that to curse the kids.


I looked up the books that Christopher Priest recommended as the best exemplars of SF this year. Without reading them, they appear to be more fantasy than SF, as does his own "The Islanders". Which makes me agree with John Scalzi that this is about taste. I was also surprised to see that 2 of his choices don't even have Amazon reviews, indicting that they have very limited audiences. While not a requirement for an award, there should be some indication that a wider audience liked or disliked a book to ensure that it wasn't just a judge's favorite.

I haven't read Priest in decades, and was quite surprised he had written "The Prestige" I liked the movie, but I didn't get any sense it was SF. Was it supposed to be?
The Islanders is what - "literary SF"?

If this is where SF is headed, no wonder it is getting hard to find new, actual, science fiction.


As good a place as any, perhaps, for an off-topic (and entirely free of personal remuneration) recommendation that I've been musing how to place on this blog: "The Rook" by Daniel O'Malley (his first book, I believe) is subtitled 'On Her Majesty's Supernatural Secret Service' and will, I think, appeal to any fan of OGH's Laundry books without being at all derivative.


I followed the link to Priest's article from your retweet yesterday Charlie, and got some very strange looks from my significant other as I descended further and further into giggling stupidly at the whole thing.

Seemed to be basically: "I'm really upset about the whole thing, because lots of talented people are being overlooked for talentless hacks, and not at all because my own book was overlooked (but here's a quick title and plug at the end of this rant that's sure to go viral)."

At least this didn't hurt my brain the same way the "Red Wolf" articles do...


"Since I can't tweet to Mr. Priest, I'll leave my reply to him here:
It's better to set out one lawnchair that to curse the kids."

You kinda beat me to it. I was just about to say; I guess you know you've made it when your elders are saying the equivalent of "You young punks! Get off my lawn!"


Honestly, I found Priest's snark to be quite endearing.

To me, authorial intent is a very important component when critiquing snark and it seems to me that he honestly was Trying to Defend the Genre. Add my admiration of Inverted World and The Prestige to the mix, and I am remarkably OK with his cranky critiques of the Clarke shortlist. Scalzi's punishment is most suitable and I concur most heartily.


Just a note from the Illustrator Monkey. The Accelerando Store is now up and running. More stuff will be added as I design it. Suggestions welcome.

Also, the links are all to the UK version of Zazzle, but there are localised versions too. Just change to .com, .ca, or .jp to get the appropriate version.


Ahem: at this point I am going to shuffle uneasily and say that while I read "The Rook", it was a little bit too silly for my taste -- just somewhat too over the top. (And there are other nasty things I could say; but in general, if I don't like a book I think it best to change the subject. Plus, I did read to the end of it.)


Charlie should start turning up at cons and asking for his ale in a 'Puppy' bowl :)
Unfortunately, Priest comes across as being one of those people for whom his own personal taste is the only arbiter of quality. Which runs quite contrary to the point of awards (there's a reason that its selected by panel). It came across in equal parts as 'damn kids get off my lawn' and 'waaahhhh .. where's my book?'.
It was entertaining though and as has often been said 'any publicity is good publicity' so I doubt the authors he took a swipe at are bothered by it.


I want a coffee mug or T-Shirt which has a picture of Charlie in profile and the words, "Did We Live And Fight In Vain?" Naturally the text should be in italics.


I'm moving house at the moment and have left a bunch of paperbacks outside for passers by. So far, CP book is still there.


Got to say that for the three of those books I've read, Priest's summations seem absolutely spot on; I couldn't agree more.

With that wonderfully rude paragraph he's captured all the recent Stross books I've read perfectly - fun, very over-the-top, but utterly trashy guilty-reads. And yes, that's exactly it, one does have to think that sooner or later the funny-sillyness of BOFH fighting zombie Nazis etc runs down into just plain silly.

In some ways it's a shame - I happened to read first Singularity Sky, and then Accelerando, which both seemed to have a lot of promise... but books since seem instead to have gone down a different route.



The Clarke Award is for a novel, not for an author.

And while I will cop to writing trashy/fun stuff, I also have a rather more infrequent serious track. Which is where "Rule 34" comes in. And if you can find any BOFG fighting zombie Nazis in "Rule 34", I think you've been sold a book with the wrong cover attached.


I love these kinds of rants, because at very least it shows that people actually still care about writing. I like the writing of both Stross and Priest, and from here on the fence the view is fine, so fine.


I realise that. But as I said, I thought his paragraph applied very well to the other recent books (Laundry ones) as well. Though I'd put Rule 34 on the trashy track too! (not that it wasn't a very good read; one certainly doesn't want everything to be po-faced and serious).

In any case, you've got a great quote there now :D T-shirts should surely just be the start of it...


One for Charles:
If you could choose between writing a literary masterpiece that would not sell or gain any recognition until after your death, or ten million copies of a trashy novel, which would you go for?


I'd flee in terror.

(Because your question implies I could only write one more novel. Which implies I'd be dead shortly thereafter.)


If you replace "Pa-per-back wri-ter" by "In-ter-net pup-py" and also replace a few other words here and there in that old Beatles song, you'll have a theme song for the T-shirt and other publishing endeavors done on paper (and screens) instead of white cotton.


Re: Gibson supports:

Well, he just supported you in a major Spanish newspaper a few days ago:

¿Lee aún ciencia ficción? Recomiéndenos algo.

R. Cualquier cosa de Charles Stross. Zoo City, del joven novelista sudafricano Lauren Beukes. Angelmaker de Nick Harkaway.

Google translates:

Do you read science fiction yet? Recommend something.

R. Anything by Charles Stross. Zoo City, the young South African novelist Lauren Beukes. Nick Harkaway Angelmaker.


That was such a cool response. You most definitely get the last laugh. :) In fact, all teh laughs belong to you! Very cool.

Love, C.


Would you mind making one with just text of the sentence itself?


"When a distinguished but elderly science fiction author states that something is..."


You're dodging it!
You could write plenty of books after that choice, but none with the same payoffs.
The choice is also not as clear cut as it may seem with respect to survival. Post Singularity, who do the gods bring back? J K Rowling or Shakespeare?


Now I'm curious about what you think is serious fiction. Halting State and Rule 34 are oftentimes funny, sure, but they're also very serious and rigorous near future extrapoloation, in my opinion.


On the Internet, no one knows you're a puppy.


Serious fiction: Catcher in the Rye


I'm not convinced about the mug largely because it's too subtle. And expensive!!

Would Bob BuyThis?

Mind you, if it had a Laundry Warrant Card embossed on it, I suppose I'd have no choice but to buy it...


Gibson created the 2010's Nontrivial Pursuit question:

What do Charles Stross, Lauren Beukes,, and Nick Harkaway have in common?

Or the variant:

So, Charles Stross, Lauren Beukes,, and Nick Harkaway walk into a bar.

The bartender, Christoper Priest, says:

What will you gentlemen have? On tap is ‘shiftparents’, ‘voidcraft’, ‘yearsends’, ‘trid’, ‘vespcams’, ‘miab’, ‘plastone’, ‘hostnest’, ‘altoysterman’...


How could you possibly tell?


A seem to remember a maxim that says: "When a distinguished but elderly science fiction author states that some nominees-list is worthless, he is very probably wrong."

...or words to that effect.
Wonder what this law is called?


That was one of my ex-wife's absolute favourite pieces of fiction.

She's my ex-wife. Though not specifically for that, nor for chatting up M John Harrison in a corner in a pub once. Or even for being rather sniffy for all SF except late-period Moorcock.


You can rest assured that C.A.T. will not be offering its services to a certain author for the purposes of chasing or doing other nasty things to... um...the internet puppy. Standards of decent behaviour need to be upheld.


Oh dear, it looks like Mr Priest is taking himself entirely too seriously. I think he thinks he's degenerated into literature, a fate any author should run a mile from.


We need Internet Puppy Piddle Pale Ale!


I wonder if Wyre Piddle brewery would be up for that - punning beer names including "piddle" are their forte. And the beers I've had have been good.


"...'The Prestige'. I liked the movie, but I didn't get any sense it was SF. Was it supposed to be?"

Did you miss the bit with the device able to duplicate a human in a remote location? It was sort of central to the story. Maybe watch it again, paying close attention to David Bowie's character.

There's a reason why this spleen-venting is aimed at the Arthur C. Clarke award - Priest's sort of a Bizzaro world Margaret Atwood.


I recall the matter transmission/duplication device quite well. But my sense was that it was a fantastical device, whose effect was achieved more by accident than design. The device plays a role, but the story does not hinge on the device, but is about the rivalry between the 2 [really 3] magicians. But I understand what you mean.


I don't consider Lauren Beukes a gentleman.

I doubt her husband does, either.


No comparison to Harlan Ellison. With Christopher Priest I actually have the impression that he thought very carefully about all his reasons and also of other views before making his blow. There is not so much a sense of anger as of disdain and controlled destruction...


@Dan Goodman.
The answer is: another careless journalist.


Has Mr. Priest mailed anyone a dead gopher?


You should send a signed T-shirt to Priest. I bet he'd love it!


Gophers are not a native species of the UK, so sourcing dead ones probably requires arranging for someone else to post you one first.

(Wild raccoons and skunks are also not native over here, Disney movies excepted.)

No, I think you'd have to make do with a rat.


No, I think you'd have to make do with a rat.

With on board WiFi for transmitting further rants?


I can't believe no-one has made a "turbulent priest" gag.


Woah. Curious, I went and looked the dead gopher reference up. I have to say this whole thing has been really educational.

Though I would add that Harlan Ellison's behaviour is not really a good metric by which to measure manners, or it seems from glancing at Ellison's own faq, basic civility, and I think a writer of Priest's talent should have been able to get his points across without resorting to such vitriol. Nina Allan did.

Not that you need my approval, Mr. Stross, but I wanted to say that I think you've behaved with remarkably good grace about the whole thing.


I admit, I did LOL at that.


I'm currently a little further into By Light Alone than Chris has yet managed, 117 pages FWIW; too early to pass any sort of meaningful judgement, but I do note that it's as littered with unexplained neologisms as Miéville or Beukes: Fwn, Lance and (egad!) iCar anyone?

I enjoyed the rant, as a rant, but a bit more internal consistency would've been helpful :)


How about a dead badger?


ROFL! No, I hadn't seen that ...


At the time Harlan pulled his stunt, sending the gopher by fourth-class mail in the US would have been equivalent to mailing it by horse-drawn carriage, so the dead gopher Harlan sent would have arrived a month or two after it was mailed. Harlan also waited until the middle of summer to mail his gopher, and it may well have been over 35 degrees outside at the time, and much hotter in a warehouse or the back of a truck. I'm not sure you've got a similar alternative of either temperature or time.

Frankly, I don't think Priest is worth the effort.


Gophers (Prairie Dogs) are native here in eastern Colorado. They tend to be bubonic plague carriers. So, mailing one might be considered an act of terrorism.


Since Harlan has lived in Lost Angeles for decades, I suspect he mailed one of the local "pocket gophers" rather than a midwestern prairie dog. I read the story in one of his books years ago, and I think the gopher actually came from his yard after he hired an exterminator.


Feorag, bravo on the store and the designs. Any chance of Laundry T-shirts, of either design or something new?
Charlie, thanks for the laughs here. I like the idea of something along the lines of a Letter of Patent, on parchment as a gift to Mr. Priest.
Now I'm off to order a T-shirt and and mug.....


Oh dear ghod. That almost deserves mention in the next Laundry novel.


Our motto: If you can pronounce it, you haven't had enough.


Well, if you're willing to put in some work you could send a model of a badger:

Not sure if you could fit Linux in it though.


Umm, the comment I was replying to (and the one it was a reply to) made no mention of Ellison. A later one did, and I'll admit to not being familiar with any Ellison/gopher story. The quicky search I did came up with an album he recorded, with a track titled "Did You Really Mail A Dead Gopher To An Editor?" Knowing a little of his character, I can make a fair guess at it.


Okay, I didn't go back to #66, where Ellison is mentioned, so I didn't quite put it together. And since we aren't actually talking about him...


One of my ancestors was Sir Reginald FitzUrse.


Internet purchasing impulse at maximum overload. Speaking about old men, my 13 y.o. dog now has a bad habit of bumping into walls, barking at absolutely nothing (and of recent) biting puppies.


That was very Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey. Charming, and a good mix of barminess and sharp shooting.

Now I want to read both the books Priest disliked and the ones he liked - everyone came out rather well.

It's a good thing you can't post pictures here or the thread would be full of cute leaking puppies.


Priest's rant: Some good points in literary criticism, some bad points in manners, some very much prima-donna grandstanding and "modestly" suggesting undoing the work of some "incompetent" people and shape the work of an organization just to suit his taste, or in other words, how everybody else should grovel to his desires and he will "graciously" pay the price of not having his work in the list, and some spectacular bad manners in an amusing and well written style, but in the end, calling people names is not cool unless they are people I dont like :P

So far, well, what kind I say. I'm sorry Charles, you may not be worthy of the high literature recognition, of being blessed by the Priests of High Art. Its sad. So sad. But well, we lumpen-readership love you for your humour and snark.

And puppies.


Hi Feorag,

You so need to make the "Warning... ...eldritch horrors from beyond spacetime." design from the HSE compliant mug available on more stuff.

For a start it would be brilliant on an iPad or phone case, make a not-half-bad mouse mat, and there are any number of things I could put stickers of it on...


Now there's an internet business waiting to happen: a service that sends dead badgers to someone who has offended you--well-ripened carrion would cost more, with extra charges for a maggot infestation. It would need a cute name, of course.


I find boiling up their pet rabbit is more effective.
Somebody should put that in a movie.


Tom Holt has a novel, whose name I drunkenly forget, in which some alien invaders are astonished to find high-powered organic CPUs cheaply available in seafood restaurants and fish markets in many of Earth's major cities. Octopus brains. Its ickier than most of his stuff. Come to think of it those aliens probably count as Internet puppies.


For what it's worth, while my initial exposure to you was from Wired (the bit about the characters in a spaceship the size of a tennis ball discussing the Singularity, IIRC), and so Singularity Sky, I've read pretty much everything of yours aside from the Hidden Family (I tried).

Up till now, my favorite stuff has been the Laundry novels. They're a blast, though admittedly not Great Literature (duh, but from your comment you already know that).

That being said, Rule 34 and Halting State are amazing. They mix the idea-building of the Festival and the Eschaton (which blew my tiny little mind the first time I read it) with near-future and the ideas blossom. Simply incredible.


You're not the only one to have asked. But I need a break before doing more design. My brain hurts!


Speaking of t-shirts, here's one of nerdy interest.

One of the Richard Feynman "Think Different" posters showed him wearing a shirt from supercomputer company Thinking Machines, where he'd done some work in the 1980s. The shirt showed a sketch visualizing the architecture of the Connection Machine CM-1.

The same photo was also used on the cover of one of Feynman's books:

Tamiko Thiel, the designer of the sketch, and of the physical appearance of the CM-1/CM-2, has made the shirt available again.


Hello, filkers?

You do realize that "Internet puppy" scans to "Paperback writer," yes? Just sayin' ...


Have I implied anything of this kind? If anything the opposite. How is this even a reply to my comment?


If that is supposed to refer my use of "destruction", I was talking of argumentative, stylistic destruction. Anyone else was also using metaphors of this kind. I was just making clear that the position he's coming from is more complex than mere unreflected anger or "whackiness".


But (although I haven't read it yet) I bet CP's criticism of Rule 34 is pretty much exact,

Of course that's why some of us like your writing.



Feòrag, how about the St Hilda of Grantham’s Home For Disgruntled Waifs And Strays illustration from Down on the Farm? (

Or even simple "Property of ...", "Chess Team", "Brain Trust" or "Think Tank" St Hilda mugs if the original logo is not available?

Other random thoughts include:
Tentacles coming out of a Laundry trolley.
Concord flying an observation run over the pyramid plain from the fuller memorandum.
"This is your brain on K Syndrome" with a picture of a Swiss cheese-like brain.
The cubicle cover for the Atrocity Archives.

Hope that helps.


Wow: "To think for even one moment that this appalling and incapable piece of juvenile work might actually be chosen as winner brings on a cold sweat of fear." In a more reasonable world, that would get used as a publisher's pull-quote.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 29, 2012 1:59 PM.

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