The 2012 Hugo Awards: Omni Catches Up with Finalists Mira Grant, Mary Robinette Kowal, and More
Last Saturday, the 2012 Hugo Award finalists were announced, and Omnivoracious posted the ballot. To follow up, we caught up with a few of the nominees to get a small, decidedly unscientific sampling of perspectives on the Hugo Award.
We were curious, for example, about the influence that the Hugos have had on some of the nominees. First on our list to ask was Seanan McGuire because she’s on the ballot four times, twice under her name and twice under the pen name of Mira Grant (for the novel Deadline and novella Countdown).
Was McGuire aware of the Hugos while growing up? The answer was an emphatic yes: “I was! I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy, and read several of the classic Hugo winner anthologies to death. This was the award I literally dreamt about when I was a kid. Let my classmates have the Oscars and the Emmys. I wanted a Hugo. They were the ultimate recognition in the field. Now, all grown up, they still are.”
Mary Robinette Kowal, a 2011 Hugo winner up this year in two categories (best novella and best related work) said much the same thing: “Oh, very much so. I started writing because I loved reading, and the Hugo awards were one of the ways that I chose reading material. It didn't always mean that I would love the book, but more often than not it was something that I needed to read.”
For veteran anthology editor Jonathan Strahan, up for best short-form editing and best podcast, that connection also formed at a young age: “When I first encountered SF as a young reader the Hugo was a stamp of quality, an assurance that a book would be worth reading. Being connected with the Hugo Awards always takes me back to that wonder I felt encountering SF for the first time. So, you can imagine that I'm delighted and honored to be nominated.”
Daniel Abraham, coauthor of the novel finalist Leviathan Wakes, also noted the ubiquitous nature of the Hugo in the minds of young SF readers: “I can't remember not being aware of it. Awards like the Hugo and the Nebula and the World Fantasy were critical in forming my reading when I was just discovering adult science fiction and fantasy. Of course they aren't a perfect critical guide, but when I was in middle school and high school and I wanted to find something really good, winning one of the major awards drew a lot of water. I've spent a lot of years since then building a critical taste of my own and finding things that weren't award winners—or even on the ballots—that speak to me as much or more than the winners did. But when I was just starting up, the awards defined quality science fiction and fantasy for me. That's what they meant.”
Nominees are notified via email prior to the public announcement, and asked if they will accept the nomination. Even for veterans in the field who have been nominated multiple times, the news of being nominated again can come as a surprise. For first-time nominees like Charlie Jane Anders that surprise is magnified ten-fold. “I was totally staggered. I think I made a really weird noise, like I'd just sat on a drawing pin. Honestly, this is such a huge honor, especially after having sat in the audience at other Hugo Awards ceremonies. I never really thought I would be sitting in the nominees' section. I still can't quite believe it, I'm convinced the nomination is going to be revoked any minute.”
“Honestly, it feels a bit like a really weird dream sequence,” McGuire, a prior nominee, confessed. “I'm expecting the talking squirrels and the inexplicable Disney cast members who want to pin trade with me any second now.”
The John W. Campbell Award finalists for best new writer are announced along with the Hugo ballot, and this year writer and noted podcaster Mur Lafferty is on that list. She recounted for Omni just how surreal a nominee’s experience can get: “I had just arrived at the beach with my family. We were locked out of the beach house as our friends were getting the key, so I sat on the beach with my husband and hoped my phone would have enough charge to listen to the UStream announcement…I was a nervous wreck. I had known about the nomination for a few weeks, but there was a doubt in my mind that I was really nominated. ‘They might change their minds!’ Excitement also came from having no idea who else was nominated, and hearing about friends who got nominations, especially the podcasters! So I finally got the feed back up right as George R.R. Martin [at EasterCon in the UK] started reading the Campbell nominees, and that was one of the best moments ever. I knew it was coming, but heck, when you're going up a roller coaster, you know what's coming but it's still a thrilling ride.”
What kind of range can readers expect from nominated works? McGuire/Grant/s Deadline is, to unfairly simplify the complex, a SF zombie novel. Abraham’s collaborative Leviathan Wakes is space opera, which he was pleased to see fellow nominee Jo Walton describe in a Tor.com review as the best 70s science fiction novel she had seen in years. “That was the project we were working on, so it was very pleasant to hear that it worked for folks.” (Walton’s own nominated novel, the excellent Among Others, could be described as an account of the aftermath of a traumatic magical event.)
In the short fiction categories, Kowal’s “Kiss Me Twice” is, as she describes it, “CSI, with a Mae West AI. It's set in a future where all police departments have an artificial intelligence aiding the detectives and police officers….I was very interested in the idea of ‘self’ and what it means to be real. This story allowed me to play with that question in ways that I could not have outside of science-fiction. At the same time, I wanted to write a straight-up murder mystery with the requisite twists and red herrings.”
As for Anders’ novelette “Six Months, Three Days,” she hopes readers “bond with the characters and get a feeling of what it's like to be in a relationship that you know is doomed from the get-go. And yet, you still let yourself fall in love, with everything that goes with it. But also, I hope that they get that this is really a story about memory and how it cheats. Both of the characters in the story are ‘remembering’ the future the way everybody remembers the past—but we know from neuroscience that memories are rewritten every time you access them. And so remembering the future isn't the same as knowing the future, because a lot of our memories get shaped and reshaped and mythologized over time.”
Because he’s an anthologist, Strahan’s take on his nominated work is of necessity broader: “I'm probably most proud of Eclipse Four, the last in a series of anthologies I've edited over the past few years, and The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year. Eclipse has been a platform where I could publish work that's really in step with what I love to read the most [and allowed me to be] a story's first and hopefully best reader; to be an evangelist for new and challenging work; and to form a link between an unpublished work and a new reader by being in the midst of editing and publishing fiction. The Best of the Year let's me connect with readers, introducing them to work and writers they might have otherwise missed. What more could I hope to be allowed to do as an editor?”
But Strahan perhaps finds the nomination for The Coode Street Podcast, which he records weekly with his colleague Gary K. Wolfe, even more personal. To Strahan, the podcast “is a particular joy. We started recording it in the aftermath of Locus founder Charles Brown's death in 2009 as a way of keeping in contact and of continuing the conversations about science fiction that we'd had with him, and it's grown into this whole other thing with a life of its own that people seem to be enjoying.”
Kowal echoed the sense of community implicit in Strahan’s comments: “Genre is, in many ways, a conversation between writers and readers. As writers, we respond to what our readers are enjoying by writing more of it. We also respond to what other people are doing in the field…What the Hugos do is serve as an external marker of that conversation.”
Anders noted, too, that “the Hugos are a great link to the history of the genre, and to some of the greatest works ever published in any genre. It's astonishing just to be linked to that history…just to be on a list of names that includes George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Cat Valente, Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire and so many others is an insane thrill, not to mention that being in a category with four people whose work I've admired for years is just incredible.”
For Lafferty, it’s a little different, in that she’s a veteran, highly influential podcaster who only in the past few years has begun to get more credit for her printed fiction. “It feels odd that after years of putting out work that gets tens of thousands of downloads, it was the sale of a 1,500 word story that made me a ‘pro.’ What it means to me is that more people are listening than I assumed. I am thrilled, amazed, and honored.”
Another nominee, for the Campbell, Stina Leicht, stressed the “great deal of hard work, patience, persistence, skill, talent, collaboration, outside support, and a certain amount of luck” that comes into play before most writers get anywhere near an awards ballot, in any category. “The fact that a majority of all this goes on while no one is watching doesn't negate the existence of those factors. However, it's more interesting to believe in the fairy tale that the extra-special princess woke one morning and due to the right of birth or fate or sparkliness, success rained down upon her --quite possibly in the form of a fairy godmother who, hopefully, didn't fall from too great a height. The truth is more boring, confusing and murky. It took over twelve years for my fairy godmother to show up…All in all, I did it for the love of the story. It wouldn't let me go. In addition, my husband, my agent and my publisher all worked to provide the opportunity for my hard work to pay off. Without those opportunities, I wouldn't have made it…But if it you'd prefer to imagine the fairy tale version, I can't stop you.”
Hugo voters will receive an electronic packet of nominated materials in the next few weeks to help them make the decisions. The Hugo Award winners and Campbell winner will be announced at the World SF Convention (Chicago) in early September.