Riding Home a Hugo: A Report from the World Science Fiction Convention

[caption id="attachment_5501" align="alignright" width="300"]Left to right: Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, Jason Heller, Kate Baker Left to right: Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, Jason Heller, Kate Baker[/caption]

The rocket-shaped statuette glittered in the light like a dagger. I actually worried about stabbing someone with it. It was pointy, heavy, ungainly, and prone to tipping over. Hell, if I weren't careful, I might accidentally kill myself with it.

If I had, I would have died happy. The rocket was a Hugo Award: the highest honor given in the science fiction and fantasy world. And the one I was holding was mine.

On September 1, at the 71st World Science Fiction Convention (also known as Worldcon, which was held this year in San Antonio), I won a Hugo Award. I didn't do so alone. The revered science fiction and fantasy magazine Clarkesworld won the Hugo for Best Semipro Zine -- and as the nonfiction editor of Clarkesworld in 2012, I was one of four Clarkesworld staffers who took home a Hugo rocket.

This was my third Worldcon, but I'd never been nominated for a Hugo before. It's a massive and rare honor, and I never suspected I'd one day own one. I grew up reading SF/F novels that were emblazoned with the tagline "Hugo Awarding-winning author." The authors who can claim such props include Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin, William Gibson, J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, and Isaac Asimov.

I have authored a novel -- Taft 2012, a speculative, satirical, alternative history about William Howard Taft -- but it was not nominated. I can't rightly claim to be in the same pantheon as Bradbury, Le Guin, Chabon, and so on. Even I ever did miraculously someday win a Hugo for a novel of mine, I would hesitate to consider myself one of their peers.

But a Hugo is a Hugo. There are many worthy categories to the award, from short stories to screenplays to podcasts to graphic novels. I won for my nonfiction editing, and I don't believe I'll sneeze at that.

By total coincidence, I'd started a curriculum for SF/F at Lighthouse in August. It was a shot in the dark -- a probe hurled into deep space, if you will. Lighthouse has always been open to genre writing, but the demand had yet to reach critical mass. With full enrollment for my first two SF/F classes, though, things were looking good. It was great to be able to tell my Intro to Science Fiction and Fantasy class that I'd won a Hugo -- what is, in essence, the Oscars of SF/F. Even better, Lighthouse -- in its infinite tolerance of my nerdiness -- has allowed me to offer two more SF/F classes this fall: an eight-week Intermediate Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop for aspiring short story writers and/or novelists, and a one-day Science Fiction and Fantasy: Flash Fiction class for those who'd like to learn how to write short-short stories in the genre, a format that's become increasingly fertile and popular over the past few years.

Why SF/F? I've loved it since I was a kid. I was captured by the imagination of it all, and the way those genres could offer escape from the everyday while making poignant, even important commentary about the real world. As a writing community, it's also a very welcoming and encouraging, even to those who haven't been immersed in SF/F their whole lives. It's that sense of inclusion and discovery that I wholeheartedly base my SF/F classes on. Science fiction and fantasy, after all, should celebrate possibilities. It's called the literature of imagination, and it's done so for a reason.

That said, I never imagined I'd win a Hugo.  I attended Worldcon this year knowing I'd been nominated, but still in total disbelief when Clarkesworld was called to the stage during the Hugo ceremony the night of September 1. The ceremony itself was lavish, with many of my current heroes in SF/F in attendance in the massive, darkened ballroom. Choking down a fist-sized knot of nerves, I ascended the stage with my fellow Clarkesworld staffers -- Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, and Kate Baker -- and made a brief speech before walking back down and taking my seat again. It was like being launched into space and then re-entering Earth's atmosphere in a fiery ball, the whole crazy trip a head-spinning blur.

A little, in fact, like riding a rocket.