A Brief Note on Mary Robinette Kowal, On the Day After Her Hugo Best Novel Win

A number of years ago, and during one of those occasional mud-flinging spats that happen in science fiction, a person who I will mercifully not name now tried to dismiss and minimize Mary Robinette Kowal as “no one you should have heard of, and no one of consequence.” This was when Mary Robinette had already become not just a writer of note, but someone widely admired and respected by her peers and colleagues for the work she had done for the community of writers and creators.

The intent behind this person’s words was cruel, and I believe intended to insult and to wound. After no small outcry, this person apologized, and Mary Robinette, who is one of the most gracious people I know, accepted it. But I for one never forgot either the insult to her, or the dismissive intent behind it.

Last night, Mary Robinette Kowal won the Hugo Award for her novel The Calculating Stars. This follows her and her novel also winning the Nebula and Locus Awards. Mary Robinette wrote a tremendous book, and right now she stands at the pinnacle of her field, with all the esteem that it could offer to her, all of which she has absolutely and definitively earned. I could not be prouder of my friend if I tried, not only because she is my friend, but because of her talent, her grace, her strength and her perseverance. I admire her more than I can say.

She has given the best answer to anyone who ever dared to say she was no one you should have heard of: She kept speaking. She kept speaking, and the world listened. And then, having listened, it celebrated what she had to say.

Congratulations, Mary Robinette. Keep speaking.

59 thoughts on “A Brief Note on Mary Robinette Kowal, On the Day After Her Hugo Best Novel Win

  1. Notes:

    1. I originally posted this on my private Facebook page, mostly because that was easier to access on my phone than WordPress, and am now porting it here, slightly edited, for posterity.

    2. It ends differently than I had originally planned, which was “HAVE YOU HEARD OF HER NOW, MOTHERFUCKER”. The sentiment of that retort, while enthusiastic, was not 100% congruent with the rest of the piece.

    3. Note I did not name this person, so if you know who this person is, please feel free not to drag their name into the discussion here.

    4. I’ll likely post a different piece, talking about Worldcon, Hugos and Dublin more generally, later. I’m still in an airport at the moment.

    5. Did I mention I’m immensely proud of Mary Robinette? Because I totally am.

  2. OMG that photo of her brought tears to my eyes. I’ve been a long-time Writing Excuses listener, and Mary Robinette fan. I raved about her books last year and I hope to keep raving far into the future. Congratulations Mary Robinette!

  3. Mary Robinette is one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure to (sort of) know. We have corresponded briefly by letter and online. Knowing she is also a puppeteer, I once lamented the tangled mess my marionette had become, and even though I am no professional (far, far from it!) and basically just another internet fan, she sent me detailed instructions on detangling it. I have enjoyed everything I have read of hers, and I am so happy she won the Hugo, and all the other awards. She is a wonderful writer, and person. Well, well deserved honor.

  4. Winning both Hugo and Nebula for best novel puts you in a league with Herbert’s ‘Dune’, Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’, ‘Dreamsnake’, ‘Ender’s Game’, ‘Rendezvous With Rama’ and other classics. Not half bad company!

  5. I just bought this book a few weeks ago, along with some of her short stories (novelettes?) about Lady Astronaut. So excited for her win!!

    And on a more shallow note (yeah, I know)…LOVE her dress! and the funky shoes on her neighbor!

  6. Not only did she deserve the win, she has been walking around Worldcon today with her Hugo letting everyone touch it because she understands that it’s the fans that make it possible. What an utterly wonderful human being she is!

  7. Ooh, and just noticed Becky Chambers won for Best Series (which I also own)! I’m a newbie to SF/F so I still don’t know a lot of authors, but really happy to see the folks I have read winning the good stuff.

  8. Kay – her neighbor is Michi Trota who won a fourth award as part of the team at Uncanny Magazine. She and Mary Robinette share a deep fondness for Fluevog shoe, which I believe those are.

  9. Excellent, thank you for the background info on Ms. Trota – already googling her (and Fluevog!).

    Ok, sorry to derail thread…congrats again to MRK!

  10. I approached the Hugo announcements with no trepidation at all, because I was certain of one thing: The Calculating Stars was going to take home Best Novel. There are some really excellent novels among the nominees, most of which I’ve read, but Kowal’s book is such a refreshing and inspiring book (along with the sequel, I must add) that I’ve been pushing it at everyone. I’ve been reading sf/f since the early 60s, obsessively at times, and I’ve never been more sure that a novel deserved this award.

    It would be wonderful is somehow my life crossed with Mary Robinette’s someday but with my lacktivity over the last years it seems unlikely. You, Mr Scalzi, do seem blessed with an extraordinary friend.

  11. I’ve been telling everyone I know about Mary Robinette’s amazing books, and I couldn’t be happier for her.

    Speaking of speaking, if you or anyone see her Hugo speech posted online, please share the link!

  12. I really enjoyed The Calculating Stars, but I actually knew MRK first from her terrific audiobook narration of “Seveneves.” It surprised me to learn she was also a writer – and one heck of a writer, who in some ways does the let’s-get-our-shit-together-fast-because-the-world-is-ending thing better than Stephenson! That’s what I call talent.

    Congrats to MRK, and to all the winners yesterday!

  13. Congratulations to Mary Robinette; I have not yet read her now award-winning book, but will begin rectifying that tonight. Mr. Scalzi, you left out puppetry. Yeah, we’ve heard of her.

  14. I have been pushing copies of The Calculating Stars into the hands of all sorts of people – family members, friends, co-workers, a server at my favorite restaurant – saying “you NEED this book in your life, trust me.” I have never, ever done that with a book before. And everyone to whom I have done that has come back after reading it to thank me. It is THAT good.

    I was about 99% certain that Ms. Kowal would win the Hugo, if for no other reason than the comments I kept hearing from other WorldCon attendees. The point I knew it for an absolute certainty was the moment when they announced that Jeanette Epps would be presenting the award for Best Novel. I mean, come on, now – if you’re going to have a lady astronaut present an award for Best Novel, how could she possibly present it to anyone but the writer of the Lady Astronaut book?

    You are indeed wealthy in your friends, Mr. Scalzi. Please pass on my congratulations to Ms. Kowal when you next see her.

  15. Colonel Snuggledorf: flash forward a year, when “The Fated Sky” is up for Best Novel, and Dr. Mae Jemison takes the podium to announce the winner…

  16. A rather successful author (not always in our genre) was pressing “Calculating Stars” on me many months ago as a great read. I think I’ve got some buying to do.

  17. @Alan Swann – unfortunately, The Fated Sky was published in 2018, so won’t be eligible for next year’s Hugos.

    I wasn’t able to vote in this year’s awards, but I read most of the novel nominees, and loved them. Had I been able to vote, it would have been very tough deciding where to rank each novel. I absolutely loved The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, and that Calculating Stars won in such a competitive year is testament to how well written it is. I also loved Mary Robinette’s acceptance speech, and am very much looking forward to the next installment in the Lady Astronaut series.

  18. Just wonderful that this post came as I’m halfway done with The Fateful Sky on audiobook. I listened to The Calculating Stars this way. Not only is she a marvelous writer but a great narrator to boot. Congratulations, well deserved.

  19. I’ve known Mary Robinette for a few years now, and I’ve been lucky enough to be her GOH liaison at both ConFusion and Penguicon. I’ve seen a lot of friends and acquaintances win Hugos, and I had a friend competing against Mary last night, but I’ve never cheered a winner like I did last night. And, even in the excitement after winning, she posted a very wise Twitter thread about what happened at the Hugo Losers Party. She’s amazing.

  20. @Avlyn — thanks. I hadn’t realized they were released just a month apart. Pity. I guess I was anticipating a Jemisin-like triad… (Were you watching the live stream, or is the speech posted somewhere?)

  21. Er, never read a single word of Mary Robinette Kowal (or NK Jemisin or even “Dune”). Now I see I need to add to my reading list after I commit to getting Charlie Jane Anders’ “The City In The Middle Of The Night.”

  22. @Alan – I watched the livestream. I haven’t seen mention of her speech being posted anywhere yet, but I’d keep an eye on File 770; they’ll probably link it if it’s available.

  23. Wow, what an impressive way to break into the stratosphere of writing! I have read some of her earlier work and enjoyed it. Congrats Ms Kowal on your new prize!! It will look so swell with a Nebula AND a Locus all together!!

    John, there’s a third Hugo in your most excellent photo, behind Ms Kowal… Do you know who that one is for? Wait… I’m sure you do. Will you enlighten the rest of us, please! Thanks for your reportage!

  24. I meant to add that the audio edition of the book is also read by Mary Robinette Kowal, and that too is wonderful!

  25. I believe the book is also a finalist for the Sidewise awards. (For best alt-history.) Not too shabby at all! :)

  26. *loud clap*

    Well said, John. You really know how to string a few sentences together yourself, you know. 😉

  27. @Alan Swann & @Avilyn Here’s the reply I received when I asked the powers that be about the full video of the Hugos ceremony:

    It was a wonderful speech!

  28. Congrats to her. I know her mostly from the “Writing Excuses Podcast”. The first time she was on (before she began a regular) you can almost here Brandon, Dan and Howard’s jaws dropping at how insightful her comments are.

    Just on the theme of forgive and forget. I in no way want to minimise what she went through, but I don’t thik its healthy for anyone to refuse to forgive. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that we all screw up big time and need forgiveness is either very good at lying to themselves or very bad at memory. Kudos to Mary for giving us a good example of forgiveness to follow.

  29. Well deserved! After I finished The Calculating Stars, my only regret was that I had not purchased it on release.

  30. Huge congratulations to Mary Robinette Kowal. I was not a very big fan of the shortlist as a whole, but The Calculating Stars was quite excellent and the win is very much deserved.

  31. I cannot add anything significant to the praise and congratulations that hasn’t been posted already. Even at a remove of watching posts on Twitter, it was joyous.

    Well done Mary!
    Well said John!

  32. “She kept speaking, and the world listened.”
    Well, sure. She has a beautiful voice and is a pleasure to listen to any time!
    (I loved The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, and am also a huge fan of her audiobook readings.)

  33. Hmm… I need a new book for my next backpacking trip. Good price on Google Play, Lady Astronaut here I come.

  34. Wow, OK, I just looked at the nominee list.
    Tough competition!!! I’ve read the following three works in Best Novel Category and really enjoyed them:
    Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
    Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
    Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

  35. I had the pleasure of reading the Lady Astronaut books a couple weeks ago and greatly enjoyed them. She absolutely deserved that Hugo!

  36. @Line, ” I don’t think its healthy for anyone to refuse to forgive. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that we all screw up big time and need forgiveness is either very good at lying to themselves or very bad at memory.”

    Everybody’s psychological needs are different, and appropriately so. As far as society goes, forgiveness is neither culturally universal nor ethically mandatory. I grieve for my own screwups, and do my best to at least fail in different ways going forward. I can still look at somebody else’s bad screwup — or intentional fault — and say “Wow, that was execrable.”

    Rabbi Ruti Regan ( @RutiRegan on Twitter, and well worth a follow) has had many instructive things on the Jewish attitude toward forgiveness. Here’s one such essay. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/forgiveness-is-not-always-a-virtue/

  37. Here’s John’s tweet of the photo of all the Hugo winners (and presenters, I think).

    That’s a lot of rockets! Congrats to Mary Robinette and all the other Hugo winners and all the finalists. It was a tough choice in a lot of the categories.

  38. I remember first hearing of Mary Robinette Kowal over a decade ago, at the Denver Worldcon in 2008. I believe that was the year that she won the Campbell award. Obviously many other well-deserved awards would follow.
    Alas, money is tight for me these days, so I don’t get out to as many cons, nor get to read the latest books. So I’d like to thank Tor (or whoever is responsible) for putting the Kindle version of The Calculating Stars on sale last week. I am so looking forward to reading the latest Hugo winner!!

  39. Quite by coincidence I picked up Calculating Stars from the library about a week ago, and as soon as I finished bought it and the Fated Sky (noticing that the ebook of Calculating Stars was cheap and wondering why.) Finished Fated Sky (and the shorts) on Hugo day.

    Wonderful works. Highly recommended and the Hugo is well-deserved. Calculating Stars’ style is somewhat similar to Scalzi in that it’s (at the risk of sounding disparaging) an easy read. Compared to, say, Jemison, where you have to chew on every sentence. What a wealth of styles we have in the recent Hugos!

  40. Is that Becky Chambers on the other side (left side of the picture)?

    I love her work, even though her last book, Record of a Spaceborne Few, is the kind of book I usually hate. It doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t really have a plot. It’s just a bunch of 2-3 page vignettes of life on a space station in the future. One of the best 5 books I’ve read in the last year.

    Alas, I’ll never meet her, nor Scalzi, nor any other great writers. The older I get the less tolerant I am of crowds, and nowdays Thanksgiving with 21 family members makes me want to hide in my office to play some Call of Duty. And I’m the cook!

  41. Jim:

    I believe Becky is the sixth person on the left, to the right of Bobbi Armbruster, the one with the blue hair, who was an acceptor for one of the winners who was not present.

  42. It was such a strong field of excellent works this year! Every one of the books nominated was amazing. Mary Robinette Kowal’s book well deserves this award, and my heartiest congratulations to her.

  43. Proof, if any more were needed, that the best revenge is to live well.

    Congratulations, Mary Robinette.

  44. Point well taken. The greatest music were done by white males (Mozart, Bach, Beethoven,,) but that does not lessen their importance or playing/appreciation by women performers.

  45. I first heard of Mary Robinette here on Whatever, so of course looked up her work. I absolutely *adore* The Lady Astronaut series, and recommend it to all my friends – *especially* the geeky, sciencey types. I am thrilled and excited for her well-deserved Hugo win for “The Calculating Stars”, and equally excited that I now get to recommend it as a Hugo award winner.

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