The Turing Test, by Chris Beckett, wins the Edge Hill Short Story Prize

The Turing Test

There’s a better than average chance that you’re asking yourself two questions right now: who the hell is Chris Beckett and what is the Edge Hill Short Story Prize? Until we received the press release announcing Chris’ win, I must confess I’d not heard of the author or the competition. So now you’re probably asking a third question: why announce this win at all?

All good questions and worthy of an answer!

The brainchild of Ailsa Cox, Reader in Creative Writing and English at Edge Hill University, the Edge Hill Short Story Prize is awarded annually to an author based in the UK or Ireland for a collection of short stories published in the previous year. The prize itself is £5,000 and, I like this, an original artwork. We’re told that the competition attracts entries from all the major publishing houses and small presses and is open to all genres. Previous winners Colm Toibin and Claire Keegan both hail from the main stream, and this year’s short list includes Booker Prize winner Anne Enright, and two others who have been Booker short listed, Ali Smith and Shena Mackay.

So, to answer all three questions in one fell swoop, this year’s winner, Chris Beckett, is a writer of science fiction. A surprise to all, it seems, and also the rationale behind this news item. “I suspect," comments James Walton, one of the Prize judges, "Chris Beckett winning the Edge Hill Prize will be seen as a surprise in the world of books." And why might that be, James? "In fact," he goes on, "it was also a bit of surprise to the judges, none of whom knew they were science fiction fans beforehand. Yet, once the judging process started, it soon became clear that The Turing Test was the book that we’d all been impressed by, and enjoyed, the most — and one by one we admitted it.”

Ah, of course, who in their right mind would expect to find quality writing in the SF ghetto?

When all is said and done this is a good win for the genre and heartening recognition from the main stream of literature of those qualities that make Science Fiction so appealing. As Walton adds, despite the strength of the competition, “it was Beckett who seemed to us to have written the most imaginative and endlessly inventive stories, fizzing with ideas and complete with strong characters and big contemporary themes. We also appreciated the sheer zest of his story-telling and the obvious pleasure he had taken in creating his fiction.”

The Turing Test refers to Alan Turing’s proposal in 1950 for an approach to testing a machine’s capacity to think, an issue close to the heart of another Beckett, Bernard Beckett, in his remarkable novel Genesis which we reviewed earlier this year.

Congratulations Chris. You can be sure that we'll be picking up your short story collection asap.

The Turing Test, by Chris Beckett, is a collection of fourteen short stories first published between 1991 and 2006, and is published by Elastic Press.

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