Namwali Serpell has won the UK’s top prize for science fiction, the Arthur C Clarke award, for her initial novel The Old Drift, which judges described as “stealth sci-fi”. The Zambian author’s first appearance tells three families’ stories over three generations, shifting from a regal settlement by Victoria Falls in the 20th century to the 1960s as Zambia attempts to drive a woman to the moon and into the near future.
The judging panel for the award comprised Stewart Hotston and Alasdair Stuart, together representing the British Science Fiction Association, Farah Mendlesohn and Chris Pak from the Science Fiction Foundation and Rhian Drinkwater from the Sci-Fi London film festival. A blend of historical fiction, magical practicality and sci-fi, Serpell saw off rivalry from authors counting previous winner Adrian Tchaikovsky and Hugo finest novel winner Arkady Martine to receive the prize.
At first, recognized by the author Arthur C Clarke with the aspire of promoting science fiction in Britain, the award goes to the most excellent sci-fi novel of the year. Chair of judges Andrew M Butler called The Old Drift “an amazing family story that spans eras from Cecil Rhodes to Rhodes Must Fall, and further than”, praising it for “interrogat[ing] colonialism from inside and tip[ing] to the science fictionality of each day events”.
“The Old Drift is, as one of our judges position it, ‘stealth sci-fi’, with inheritance and infection at its heart,” said Butler. “Our pandemic-ravaged world reminds us how connected our world has been for the last century or additional – and this book points to the global character of science fiction.”
Born in Zambia, Serpell shifted to the United States when she was a kid. Her winning the prestigious Arthur C Clarke is a great accomplishment allowing for that it’s a debut book by an author of colour! Last year’s winner of the prize, Tade Thompson, called The Old Drift “the great African novel of the 21st century”.
And President Lungu took to Facebook to cheer Serpell on the accomplishment. It is heartwarming to learn that a Zambian writer Namwali Serpell has won the UK’s top prize for science fiction, the Arthur C Clarke award, for her first novel ‘The Old Drift’. I believe that this recognition is a great endorsement for writers of Zambian origin or stories from a Zambian inspired context. This is also a motivation for other writers and artists,” President Lungu said.
Namwali Serpell made a masterstroke with her debut, which encourages all women to give our first shot. She made us believe that yes, we can do it and even achieve it.