Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson has won the first Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award, for her novel The Principle of Moments.
The prize was launched by Gollancz and author Ben Aaronovitch last year to champion under-represented voices in science fiction, fantasy and horror.
University student Jikiemi-Pearson has won the top prize of £4,000 and a year-long mentoring programme with Gollancz’s senior commissioning editor, Rachel Winterbottom. Her unpublished novel is set in a galaxy where humans are not classed as citizens, but as labourers indentured to the empire, working to replay the billions in debt they unwittingly incurred when they settled on Gahraan, a planet already owned by someone else.
She said: "I first of all want to say a huge thank you to everybody who made this award possible, from Ben Aaronovitch, to the Good Literary Agency, to everyone at National Novel Writing Month and everyone at Gollancz and Orion. A huge thank you to the judges—you read my book about Black boys who time travel and fall in love with other boys, and Black girls who resist the systems of power that would see them broken by any means necessary.
"This prize is one that is sorely needed, especially in an industry with such a huge diversity and representation problem. I’ve wanted to be a science fiction fantasy author my whole life, but there was always a barrier in my mind informed by a world that told me: Black people don’t write science fiction and get recognised or rewarded or celebrated for it. Or that they did—sometimes, but they had to be exceptional to do so. I’m young, I’m not exceptional—yet—and I have a lot to learn, but I believe the world’s changing. I just hope the industry can gather itself in time to change alongside everyone else already forging ahead. To me, this prize is proof that it’s a lot easier to do so that many would have you believe. So, thank you for all who made this prize possible."
In second place, Kyla Jardine has won £2,000 in prize money, alongside a critique of her work The Reeves’ Guild.
Prize co-founder, screenwriter and Gollancz author Ben Aaronovitch said: "I have been truly staggered by the range and quality of all the submissions. Choosing a shortlist was not easy and I’m looking forward to what happens to the winners and runners up alike. This was never planned as one off and are already laying plans for 2021."
The shortlist of eight were chosen from 220 overall entries judged by actor Adjoa Andoh, author Dhonielle Clayton, founder of Illumicrate subscription box Daphne Tonge, Gollancz’s senior commissioning editor Rachel Winterbottom and Abi Fellows, literary agent at The Good Agency.
Commenting on the winning titles, Winterbottom said: “The Principle of Moments is such a joyous, energetic, thrilling read. Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson takes us on an adventure that explores vital, brilliant stories interwoven through time and space, shedding a light on our past, present and future. It’s a story so gloriously inventive, it’s science fiction at its very best—without boundaries. Esmie’s imagination and writing really captured my heart and left me wanting nothing more than to follow Asha and Obi to the ends of time.
"The Reeves’ Guild achieves that rare feat of hooking you immediately from the opening scene. With enviable skill, Kyla Jardine transports you into the bureaucratic world of Leif Corbeau’s MI5, providing the perfect, (extra)ordinary backdrop for occult goings on in London. Kyla has written a world that feels vividly, vitally real, firmly grounding the supernatural elements alongside characters who have their own everyday lives to live. It’s addictive, brilliant, incredibly accomplished writing.”
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