Chris Beckett was the deserving winning of the UK’s major science fiction prize, which he accepted at the Royal Society tonight along with a cheque for £2,013. He won for Dark Eden, an SF novel that draws on the Adam and Eve creation story for a richly textured tale about stranded astronauts and their incestuous offspring on a sunless alien planet that is lit and kept warm by its own geothermal life. It’s a world he first visited in a 1992 story for Interzone magazine and again in 2006; as he explained to the audience, his daughter inspired him to return to Eden and use that title for a novel.
There was also strong support in the room for Ken MacLeod’s socialist dystopia novel, Intrusion, and Nick Harkaway’s riotous fantasy romp Angelmaker had its admirers too. But Beckett was a popular winner and his speech recalling his childhood staring at the ceiling and imagining other worlds, rather than playing with other kids and “learning to get along with other humans”, was warmly received. It wasn’t a surprising shortlist but there were some strong novels and, in its 27th year, the Clarke is a reliable and even inspiring guide to a genre that often gets overlooked.
It was also good to see plenty of former winners at the Royal Society supporting the award including Christopher Priest (2003 – The Separation), Geoff Ryman (1990 – The Child Garden, 2006 – Air), Jeff Noon (1994 – Vurt) and South African author Lauren Beukes, who won in 2011 for Zoo City and has been in London this week promoting The Shining Girls, a high-concept thriller about a time-travelling serial killer that’s earned strong reviews and been tipped as a bestseller that will appeal to the army of Gone Girl fans.