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‘At Last, an African Book of Unarguable Universality’

Namwali Serpell has won the UK’s top prize for science fiction, the Arthur C Clarke award, for her first novel The Old Drift, which judges described as “stealth sci-fi”. The Zambian author’s debut tells the stories of three families over three generations, moving from a colonial settlement by Victoria Falls at the turn of the 20th century, to the 1960s as Zambia attempts to send a woman to the moon, and into the near future. A mix of historical fiction, magical realism and sci-fi, Serpell saw off competition from authors including previous winner Adrian Tchaikovsky and Hugo best novel winner Arkady Martine to take the prize. Originally established by the author Arthur C Clarke with the aim of promoting science fiction in Britain, the award goes to the best sci-fi novel of the year. Chair of judges Andrew M Butler called The Old Drift “an extraordinary family saga that spans eras from Cecil Rhodes to Rhodes Must Fall, and beyond”, praising it for “interrogat[ing] colonialism from within and point[ing] to the science fictionality of everyday events”.