Priest's blog entry is, of course, an opinion and subjective. Let's not attempt to portray it as if Priest was speaking in an objective manner.
Those who praise the rant share Priest's sentiment: that this year's shortlist are, at best, mediocre, or at its worst, terrible. This, to them, is the heart of his piece, and in that sense, the blog entry must be read.
Personally, I haven't read any of the books, so cannot state any preference on the matter (except for one of the recommendations, Osama by Lavie Tidhar). However, some critics that I admire have similar criticisms of the shortlist, such as James Nicoll and Larry Nolen. Not that they should have the final say in the matter, as there are also critics who do not share Priest's opinion.
Nonetheless, there is merit to Priest's complaints, and he does articulate why the various novels do not work for him. Similarly, when he does recommend novels, he gives ample reasons as to why they are wonderful books.
When it comes to Priest's criticisms, I only have two complaints:
- The first half of his rant against China Mieville should have been discarded. This year's awards is judging this year's work; does it matter if Mieville won in the past or not? Unless Priest is insinuating that the sole reason Mieville is on the ballot is due to legacy or popularity voting—which I don't think he is—then he does not need to state that the possibility of a fourth Clarke Award for Mieville should be grounds for him not to win the award. He should have dove straightly to his point, which is that Embassytown was a flawed novel that could have used more editing.
- Whereas other authors have several paragraphs (Mieville had six) devoted to analysis, Sheri S. Tepper simply got three sentences, one of which was a rhetorical question. "For fuck’s sake, it is a quest saga and it has a talking horse," alone is not grounds for disliking—or liking—a novel, unless we are stating a personal preference.
On the other hand, detractors of Priest—myself included—focus on the weakness of the blog entry: that his discourse unnecessarily attacks others.
Just take the opening paragraph, and how Mark Billingham's only crime (no pun intended) is to have been a co-panelist of Priest. Arguably it's seeding for the fifth paragraph where Priest criticizes the shortlist, but ultimately unnecessary collateral damage.
The second problem is his proposed solution, specifically "The present panel of judges should be fired, or forced to resign, immediately." Again, I want to reiterate that judging fiction is a subjective endeavor. Theoretically, the goal of having different judges is to cast a wide net, and to decide on the best of the best. Practically speaking, however, it could also result in judges settling on books that they do not mutually disagree upon—after much debate, horse trading, and deliberation—as opposed to the novels that they initially felt strongly about. If you believe in Priest's thesis that this was a disappointing shortlist, this could be one of the reasons why it felt insipid, safe, and dull. Which isn't necessarily the fault of the judges as individuals per se, but part and parcel of having a jury.
And perhaps that's one of the criticisms against Priest. Should we eliminate this year's judges from the competition, forever? Should this year's awards be disqualified in favor of Priest's proposals? My problem with this is that no matter who does the judging, it will be a subjective call, and there will always be dissenters. It begs the question: when is it warranted to void the competition, or rather, whose opinion matters more? When majority of the fandom disagree? If that's the case, why not simply a popular vote?
Personally, I find it interesting that the reactions find themselves in one of two camps: those that focus on Priest's criticisms, and those that focus on Priest's attacks. Not that it is a binary choice. It's possible to like one and dislike the other aspect, but most of the people I've chatted tend to feel strongly about one or the other, and excuse—or omit—the other aspect.
Playing devil's advocate, there was one person who asked me if people would have read the post if it was a considered treatise. To which I replied, so does the ends justify the means?
Looking on the positive side of things, there's gems in Priest's blog entry. For the critics, there's his sincere assessment of the various novels. For prospective readers, there's the list of recommended titles. And this can get lost in the vilification of Priest. But on the other hand, there are also parts of the piece that is arguably unreasonable, or for me, unethical (not that people should conform and agree to my standards of what is ethical).
Personally, my recommendation is to read those books, and judge for yourselves whether they are important books. But also bear in mind that this is all in the realm of subjectivity, and there are no accurate, empirical tests for what is "UK's premier prize for science fiction literature."