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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Why the future could be British
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Still of new Dr Who David Tennant, BBC
The new series of Dr Who has been a big success
Science-fiction and fantasy are hard to escape at the moment and it's the British writers winning the plaudits. Why?

The films are tops at the box office, the books dominate the best-seller lists and on the TV the revived Doctor Who has pleased old fans and won a generation of new ones.

Science fiction is booming and the British writers are leading the pack.

For the first time in its 63-year history, all the writers nominated for the prestigious Hugo award for the best novel are British.

The Hugos, named after science-fiction publishing legend Hugo Gernsback, are the genre writing equivalent of the Oscars.

Iain M Banks - The Algebraist
China Mieville - The Iron Council
Charles Stross - Iron Sunrise
Susanna Clarke - Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Ian McDonald - River of Gods
Winners are announced on the final day of the World Science Fiction Convention which is being held in Glasgow from 4-8 August.

Nominee Ian McDonald says there are more Americans eligible to vote than any other nationality, so it's not just a case of home advantage helping the Brits.

"We'd like to think that the quality of the writing on this side of the Atlantic is much better and doing more interesting stuff," he says. "We're pushing the genre out of its fairly stiff, conservative ghetto."

Charlie Stross, another nominated author, says there has been a "major renaissance of British SF", although it has been aided by the timing of the nominations, coming as the big name US authors were between books.

All the books on the list are broadly subversive of the conventions of genre writing.

Cactus people

Ian McDonald's nominated novel, River of Gods, playfully outsources cyberpunk sensibilities and technologies to India to create what he describes as "Khyberpunk".

Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell mixes the romance of the Napoleonic era with magick and the fairy realm to great critical acclaim.

Aftermath of World Trade Centre attack, AP
The aftermath of 9/11 is reflected in American writing
And it would be hard to find a less traditional fantasy than China Mieville's Iron Council, with its cactus people, hedgehog men riding roosters and its rebels and criminals punished by being magically mated with machines.

Mr Stross says that what an author writes is a reflection of his society, and currently US genre writers are mirroring the "deep trauma" that 9/11 wrought on America.

"What we write tends to reflect our perceptions of the world around us," he says, "and if it's an uncertain world full of shadows it's no surprise you get wish fulfilment or a bit downbeat."

So super-hero movies divide the world into black and white moralities and authors try to write alternative histories of key US events, such as the Civil War.

Change is so rapid, the far future is now only five years away
Charlie Stross
Hugo Novel nominee
By contrast British genre writers are not looking back, they are eyeing the future with lip-smacking anticipation.

"We're a bit more upbeat and there's an openness about there being a future for us," says Mr Stross.

And they are better getting to grips with the ever-increasing pace of technological change, which makes prediction a trickier job than ever.

"Change is so rapid, the far future is now only five years away," he says.

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