This past weekend in Reno, Nevada, the Hugo Awards were announced during the World Science Fiction Convention. The award is given to the best in the field from the prior year as voted on by about two thousand attendees of the World SF Convention. Winners included Connie Willis in the best novel category for her duology, Blackout and All Clear, set in England during World War II. Other winners included Mary Robinette Kowal for best short story, Ted Chiang for best novella, and Clarkesworld as best semi-professional magazine. New York Times bestseller Lev Grossman won the John W. Campbell Award for best newcomer. (The full list of winners can be found here.)
For Willis, who has won the Hugo many times, the experience never gets old: "I was stunned and deliriously happy the first time I won (in 1982, I think), and I was stunned and delirious Saturday night. That part never changes, although I now also feel guilty because I've been so lucky and won so many times. But since each time is for a different work, it's always like the first time."
She has a realistic view of what the award means, telling Omnivoracious "It clearly doesn't mean that your work is the best, because lots of great science fiction stories and novels haven't won the Hugo, and Fred Astaire never won an Oscar. But to me it means that people liked my story, which, after working completely in isolation without feedback for a very long time (eight years in the case of Blackout and All Clear), it's really reassuring to find that out."
We asked Ted Chiang, a winner who specializes in short stories and has won many awards for them, if he ever feels any pressure while writing. "People routinely ask me when I'm going to write a novel, and I could do without that, but it's not a big deal. Most of the pressure I feel is internally generated; I wish I wrote more than I do, and better than I do. It's gratifying both to be nominated for awards and to win them, but I don't think those things have dramatically changed the critical voice I hear when I try to write."
His novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects was sparked by thinking about traditional assumptions that "artificial intelligence will combine all the strengths of human beings and of software, without any of the drawbacks of either. This seems to run counter to everything we know about both human cognition and the software development process. I don't think it's particularly likely that we'll create software that acts like a human being, but for this story, I tried imagining the circumstances under which it might actually come about, and then thought about the problems that might arise as a result."
For Willis and Chiang, the award might be just as sparkly after multiple wins, but for Neil Clarke, founder of Clarkesworld magazine, winning the award (his second) has more of an umbrella effect since he's representing not just his staff but also the writers who contribute to this popular online publication. "The Hugos are a very prestigious award in our community. Having that mark of excellence associated with your work is never a bad thing. At our level, winning (and being nominated) is very likely to introduce our work to more readers. On a more personal level, it's a considerable boost to one's confidence and encourages us to keep doing what we do."
Clarkesworld was launched in October 2006. The magazine has embraced new technology, and is hoping to increase their Kindle subscriber base in time for their fifth anniversary issue in October. "In addition to publishing online and in ebooks, we've been podcasting all our fiction, so this change would also result in a greater frequency of episodes. There will also be a few special surprises scattered throughout the year as part of our fifth anniversary celebration. "
First time winner Mary Robinette Kowal is also one of those embracing Kindle, with her story available in an e-book that contains two versions with extras. She enjoyed the Hugo Ceremony immensely. "The evening was very professionally done, with two large screens that showed the same feed the streaming audience got. There were some amazing dresses and suits. Everyone looked quite dapper. After the Hugos I'll admit that things are a bit of a haze for me. We're asked to stay on stage to have our photos taken. Then there are parties throughout the building. People were lovely and quite content to let me be completely incoherent with giddy joy."
Willis had a few favorite moments during the ceremony that she shared with Omni. "[One of] my two favorite parts was Gaye Haldeman's winning"¦the Big Heart Award. This is an award given to a fan or writer who's done extraordinary acts of kindness, and nobody deserves it more than Gaye. She's the nicest person in the field, always there to help and organize and translate and make sure everyone's included"¦ [I also enjoyed] Robert Silverberg's presentation of the Best Novelette Hugo. He began by saying he would never delay the proceedings and make the nominees suffer like Connie Willis always does, and then proceeded to do just that. It was hilarious, and everyone was in stitches, even though I was one of the suffering nominees. But then again, I have done the same thing in the past, so I guess I'm not in a position to complain."
Next year's World SF Convention will be held in Chicago, with San Antonio just winning the bid for the 2013 convention.