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Arthur C. Clarke Award Winner Ian R. MacLeod on Song of Time

Ian R. MacLeod, one of England's finest contemporary writers, won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award recently for his novel Song of Time from PS Publishing. Although MacLeod is an amazing stylist whose work is often poignant and complex, the win came as a surprise primarily because Song of Time was released by an independent press. MacLeod beat out, among others, Neal Stephenson, and the win hopefully will get the author some long-overdue credit outside of genre for his spectacular talent.

In the starred review from Booklist, Ray Olson wrote about MacLeod's novel, "Near the end of the twenty-first century, an old woman in Cornwall rescues a nude young man from the ocean...She is a world-famous violinist, who, despite having taken full advantage of life-prolonging therapeutics, knows death is near. It suits her needs to reminisce and his to listen. Her remembrances are punctuated by daily life with Adam until she has told him all. Her colorful, eventful life almost distracts us from the exceptional tumult amid which it is lived[, affected by] macroevents that we in 2008 look on as dreaded possibilities but that she treats as only so much context...This book forefronts a personal story within that vision and artfully suggests that, in human terms, the personal trumps the historical every time."

I interviewed MacLeod via email about the award ceremony and Song of Time. Visit his website for more information about his work.

Song Knowing that you were probably going to win, was it difficult to fake surprise when they announced the winner?

Ian R. MacLeod:
No need to fake surprise at all. I really wasn’t expecting it. I know that’s what people always say, but sometimes they mean it more than others, and I really do mean it as far as this award was concerned. I was small press and Song of Time is a unusual book which deliberately sets out to challenge some of the more obvious SF tropes and certainly doesn’t tick all the usual boxes. The Guardian described my speech as “disarmingly shambolic”. Need I say more? When they said your name, do you remember the first thought that came into your mind?

Ian R. MacLeod:
I’ve never been at a ceremony where I was up for an award, and then actually won it, before. It really is like I’ve heard people say--you think, that sounds like my name they just said. I sat there for a moment or two just to be sure. That whole, runs up to podium, grabs award and then starts making speech without  having actually won thing is best avoided, in my experience. Does it bother you that Neal Stephenson apparently cried when he heard he'd lost?

Ian R. MacLeod:
He was obviously expecting to win, which challenges the Gods, and is asking for tears before bedtime and all other sorts of trouble. If you had to reduce your novel down to a quick summary in response to someone asking you about it at a cocktail party, what would you say?

Ian R. MacLeod:
It’s a woman who has lived her life through the current century looking back over all the things which have happened, and is considering the leap into a kind of machine intelligence, which may or may not give her immortality. It’s about the future of love, life and music. How long did you work on the novel, and is it part of any existing milieu of yours, or a stand-alone?

Ian R. MacLeod:
Took me a couple of years, on and off, as most of my works seem to do. Although I was under no pressure to deliver to a contract. No plans to return to the milieu of the book. It very much stands on its own. What was the hardest part of writing the novel?

Ian R. MacLeod:
Having had some very encouraging initial feedback from agents and publishers, finding out that no one wanted to buy the book by the time I was about a third of the way through. Still, I persisted, and fought all the demons you usually have to fight, along with the extra ones of wondering why the hell I was bothering. Eventually, of course, it did find a home thanks to PS Publishing. Having gone through all of that, of course, winning the Clarke award felt especially nice. I’ve now got my fingers crossed for a mass market edition. What was the most fun about working on the novel?

Ian R. MacLeod:
I enjoyed the ending, which is quite dramatic in an almost Hitchcockian way. I rather liked the whole stormy night and bodies in the sea kind of stuff which kicks in (don’t think I’m giving too much away there). That, and the virtual reality/machine intelligence scenes, which try to show what it might be like to have your soul and memory transferred into binary. They were fun as well. What are you working on now?

Ian R. MacLeod:
I’m just finishing off a new novel called Wake Up And Dream. It’s set in an alternate version of Golden Age Hollywood. The main character is a seedy unlicensed matrimonial private eye called Clark Gable. Forget the talkies — this is about the feelies. Would you say it's all about you now that you've won the Clarke, or are there other people to consider?

Ian R. MacLeod:
I’ve never been one for putting thank yous in my books. It always reminds me of 70s rock albums, and indeed albums all the way up to the present day, with all that stuff about the guy who brought the biscuits and thanks to God and/or whatever guru they’re currently hanging out with. It seems to be an increasing trend. Donna Tartt does it, and quite a few other writers, and it always makes me think--did Dickens do this, did Milton, did Proust, did Hemingway? Is there a final chapter in the Bible where God thanks the woman who serviced his PC and walked his dog? Well, I don’t quite think all of that, but I do regard writing as a solitary process, and I tend to work out things very much on my own. More and more, in fact. Even my wife doesn’t get to see stuff now usually until it’s fully done. So, vain though it probably sounds, and having just run the rather considerable risk of comparing myself to Dickens, Milton, Proust, Hemingway and God, I do think that this is my book, for good or ill. Although I wouldn’t be the person I am without a lot of support from others, Song Of Time is a work of one semi-intelligent entity, and that entity is myself.


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