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Dreams Before the Start of Time, by Anne Charnock (Books 2018, 20)

I posted about Anne Charnock’s Clarke win a few weeks back, and I’m pleased for her. But when I was about a third through this, I had a dawning realisation: this appeared not to be science fiction. The Clarke Award being for the best SF novel of the year, of course.

At that point there were, to my reckoning, two things that don’t quite exist in the real world today: a self-driving car, and a kind of personal health sensor that can tell how much you drank last night, and if you’re pregnant. Neither is key to the plot or anything else, though.

There was also a hint that global warming has taken a turn for the worse. But it could just be a year with a bad crop, and anyway, that’s hardly fiction, never mind SF.

But then I hit part two, and it jumped forward 50 years, with corresponding technological advances. Part three takes us forward another fifty or so years.

So what we have is a series of vignettes about the experiences of several interlinked families, over a hundred or so years. It’s interesting enough, but it’s limited. It’s about families and the future of how humans conceive, bear (or not), and raise children. Which is fine. But there’s very little about what else is going on in the world, in society. Or even much about the societal effects of the technologies we are looking at. Yes, by the end there are reports of a visibly-pregnant woman being abused in public for giving her baby a bad start in life (by not using the artificial uterus technology and associated genetic cleansing). But that’s it.

It’s interesting enough, as far as it goes, but I’ve got to admit I’m surprised the judges considered it the best SF novel published in Britain in 2017.

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