The 2017 Clarke Award shortlist was announced at the beginning of May and, as I did last year, I want to read the entire shortlist.
If you have not seen the shortlist already, here it is:
- Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
- Central Station by Lavie Tidhar
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- After Atlas by Emma Newman
- A Close and Common Orbit by Beckie Chambers
- Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
My goal is to read the shortlist before July 27th when the winner will be announced.
Genre: Science fiction thriller, Mystery, Fantasy
Length: 272 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Publication Date: January 21th 2017
A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. Breathtaking SF from a Clarke Award-winning author.
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over.
And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
Occupy Me is the only book on the shortlist I never heard of before its nominations, however Tricia Sullivan is not a Clarke newbie since she actually won one in 1999 with her novel Dreaming in Smoke. I’m always willing to read works I never heard of before but when I glanced at the synopsis, I was a bit baffled and rightly so since this book is very hard to explain.
Occupy Me is a blend of science fiction, fantasy, mystery and thriller and follows three characters, Pearl a quantum angel looking for one of her stolen component that prevents her from leaving Earth. We also meet Dr Kisi Sorle, the man responsible for the theft as he tries to understand who or what seems to posses his body and finally Allison a sixty years old Scottish vet. The book opens when Sorle finds himself waking up in a car he didn’t remember taking and a mysterious brieface that may contains the soul of an old man and other dimensions. He doesn’t know what the briefcase is since his body is regularly hijacked by someone else and he finds himself completely emprisonned in his body. As he boards a plane fleeing in a foreign country, he encounters Pearl who recognizes him as the guy who stole her component (which is actually the mysterious briefcase) and panic ensues. (Fun fact, the book is narrated in the first, the second and the third perspective, one for each characters and it actually worked quite well!)
It would be easy for me to say that this book is completely WTF and I mean, it kind of is. However, so far it seems to be the most unique book on the shortlist and, even if it is pretty messy, this book is loaded with interesting and original things (unlike you A Closed and Common Orbit!). Reading Occupy Me was quite the experience and I’m not sure I would recommend the journey, I personally enjoyed it but I expect most people to be completely thrown off or annoyed by this one.
First of all, the book is pretty much all over the place, as I said it’s a blend of different genres and I sometimes wished while reading that Sullivan had narrowed that a bit. I mean, if she had focused on each part she could have written several novels. I was almost too much materials for that thin of a book and I didn’t feel that every part worked well together. I mean featuring dinosaurs in a science fiction thriller/urban fantasy book was a bit much for me and I don’t think it was very necessary for the story. I mean this passage from the book says it all:
“I spread my wings on the water to stop myself sinking. I couldn’t see the plane anymore. Or the pterosaur. I was alone. What. The fuck. Just happened.”
Tricia Sullivan, Occupy Me
However, even if Occupy Me was a weird one, I still think it is full of very interesting points of discussion. Indeed, Sullivan brings up a lot the idea of a conflict between the new and the old like science versus fantasy and the past versus the present. The main protagonist being a perfect example of that, Pearl is a two years old quantum angel who looks like a 50 years old 6 feet tall very muscular woman, she’s both extremely young and old since she has the knowledge of an ancient being while often acting like a baby. She’s both a fantastical creature and an extremely advanced piece of tech. She’s so advanced that she can access Higher Dimension (refered to as HD in the book) which seems to be our idea of Paradise. In a way she is an organic data center and further in the book we learn that she transports dead civilizations on her body. She is a ship connecting the future and the past.
Kisi Sorle, the doctor is also a good illustration of that, he grew up in a country which was destroyed by oil companies and while he wants to help his former nation, he can’t do that without the support of the ones who destroyed it to begin with. Because of that, he always feels torned between his enemies and what he wants to restore, a division represented by the being who possess him.
This book reminded me quite a bit of The Book of Phoenix, a book shortlisted for the 2016 Clarke, the stories are very different but they have overlapping themes and in distinct ways, they are both angry works shouting at a society based on conflict and dichotomy.
In the end, Occupy Me worked for me, it’s a very strange book and I can’t say that I understood it (I think I would have to re-read it at least once for that) but it made me think and it was far from everything I previously read. I wouldn’t be mad if it managed to win the 2017 Clarke even if it would surprise me a bit since I don’t think it’s one of the strongest contender. I have read the entire shortlist by now (I am currently re-reading Central Station) and for me the winner will either be Ninefox Gambit, The Underground Railroad or Central Station, but who knows? I don’t know what the judges think of the shortlist infortunately!
Anyway, if Occupy sounds like something you might like, give it a try, it might surprise you a lot!