The Philip K. Dick Award finalists for best original Science Fiction published in paperback form in the United States have just been announced:
A Soldier's Duty by Jean Johnson (Ace Books)
After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh (Small Beer Press)
Deadline by Mira Grant (Orbit)
The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett (Orbit)
The Other by Matthew Hughes (Underland Press)
The Postmortal by Drew Magary (Penguin Books)
The Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy by Simon Morden (Orbit)
The hot hand here clearly belongs to Maureen F. McHugh with After the Apocalypse from Small Beer, the only short story collection on the ballot. It's a brilliant book that hit the trifecta of starred reviews in Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. Michael Dirda called an "irresistible festival of horrors" in the Washington Post. Publishers Weekly and io9.com both put it on their year's best list.
Indie publishers like McHugh's Small Beer title appear ever more frequently on the Philip K. Dick list"”ever since The Troika by Stepan Chapman, published by my Ministry of Whimsy Press, won in 1997"”but it's still interesting to see two such offerings on the same ballot. The second is Matthew Hughes' The Other from Underland Press. Hughes brings a Jack Vance sensibility to his science fiction, although with a more baroque style. He's also at heart a horror writer in a supernatural vein, which informs his SF as well. In The Other, Luff Imbry, an insidiously clever confidence man finds himself embroiled in intrigue on a far-off planet.
Mira Grant, meanwhile, continues her strong critical and commercial showing with Deadline, the second in her ingenious Newsflesh zombie series. You can read an interview with Grant talking about Deadline right here on Omnivoracious. The first novel in the series, Feed, was also a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award, and was largely responsible for her winning the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer.
Other finalists demonstrate the breadth of what modern science fiction has to offer. The popular The Postmortal by Drew Magary postulates a near-future cure for aging that has severe political and social repercussions. A Soldier's Duty by Jean Johnson features a precog soldier in the far future. The Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy by Simon Morden is infamous for effective if eye-gougingly kaleidoscopic covers devised by some sadist at Orbit Books (if you look at them in the mirror, they no doubt reveal the secret message "Killjoy Was Here"). The books are set in a nearish-future in which the U.S. is a theocracy, Japan is destroyed, and the U.K. has devolved into anarchy.
By focusing on paperback originals, the Philip K. Dick Award seeks to provide more attention for books that may otherwise get overlooked. Certainly, The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett, released last spring, benefits from inclusion. Despite some fine reviews, including one in the Wall Street Journal, it hasn't yet fully found its audience. A comment on Amazon that The Company Man reads as if "Upton Sinclair and Philip K. Dick had collaborated to write a Sam Spade novel" isn't far-off, if you throw in Steampunk elements like airships. Hopefully, the nomination will allow more readers to discover this fine novel.
Congratulations to all of the finalists. First prize and any special citations will be announced on Friday, April 6, 2012 at Norwescon 35 at the Doubletree Seattle Airport Hotel, SeaTac, Washington. The 2011 judges were Scott Baker (chair), Mark Budz, Roby James, Darrell Schweitzer, and Alice K. Turner.