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JoCo Cruise 2021 Virtual Panel: “Quarantine Creativity: How We Got Through 2020 & What We Learned From It”

As part of the virtual JoCo Cruise this year, I, Mary Robinette Kowal, Rebecca Roanhorse and Charlie Jane Anders talked about being creative in 2020 — or not! — and what we learned from the year that was. Here it is in all of its YouTubeable glory. It’s in fact very interesting, which is down to the other three participants, I think. Enjoy!

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2021 Hugo Award Finalist Follow-up

Having now had a day to look at the Hugo Awards Finalist list and to think about it, I’m now ready to share some thoughts. With me for this examination of this year’s edition of science fiction’s premier award is my always reliable Fictional Interlocutor, to feed me leading questions that always make me look witty and wise.

I’m not comfortable with that description of my job.

I don’t care. Say hello to the people!

(sighs) Hello, people!

That’s better. You have questions for me?

Yes, they’re on these cue cards. First, congratulations on your Best Series Finalist placing.

Thank you.

That’s not really a question, though. More of a comment.

I see what you did there.

Here’s an actual question, though: How do you feel about being a finalist this year?

I feel pretty good about it. I’m really proud of the Interdependency series. It’s the first book series of mine that I wrote knowing it was going to be a series before I wrote it, and for which I developed a story intentionally meant to play out over several books. In that regard, getting a Best Series nod feels like huge confirmation of my storytelling skills at the series level. It’s the right Hugo nod for these books, and I’m pleased they’re being considered.

And how do you feel about the competition in the category?

I think it’s pretty awesome, actually. I’m up against friends and their terrific books, and I think the voters are going to positively agonize over how to rank the contenders. As they should! Hugo contenders should be tough to rank. It’s a huge compliment to have the Interdependency considered among these series. I’ve said for years that if you look at a category you’re a finalist in and don’t see anyone you’d be really pissed to lose to, you’ve already won; it means you’re with your peers, and with work that stands with your own. So I feel like I’m winning already.

Nice cover for if you don’t actually win, that.

Oh, hush. To be clear, I would still like to actually win, and I think the Interdependency series is good enough to win, and in fact may win. But if it doesn’t, then that’s all right too. Because that means something else awesome and deserving won instead, and how can you be angry at that.

Lots of people might be angry at that.

I mean, fair. I admit that I come to award contests having won my share of awards and already having a decent amount of success, so I have the luxury of being sanguine. I like to win! I want to win! But not winning will not crush me. And this year I know I will be very happy for whoever does win my category, even if it’s not me. Again, that counts as a win.

What do you think of the rest of the Hugo fiction categories this year?

I think it’s a fairly standard year for them, don’t you?

How do you mean?

Well, for example, take the Best Novel category: It features six novels and authors. Four of those novels (The City We Became, Harrow the Ninth, Network Effect, Pirinesi) are New York Times best sellers. Three of the authors (Jemisin, Kowal, Clarke) have won Best Novel before. Two more of them (Roanhorse, Wells) have won Hugos in other categories, and the remaining author (Muir) was nominated for Best Novel before. That’s a fairly standard distribution for the category.

Likewise the short fiction categories feature a mix of category bestsellers, previous award nominees and winners, and a smattering of new people showing up on the finalist list for the first time. The series category is much the same: Previous winners, bestsellers and some relatively new blood as well. Likewise for the Lodestar YA category. All very standard! Fortunately the quality of the work in each category is very high, so even if the distribution of finalists is something we’ve seen before, and frequently, there’s still quite a lot for voters to argue about before they make their final rankings.

But —

But what?

You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you.

Say what?

There’s a notable dearth of cishet white dudes in the fiction categories!

Is there? Huh. I guess there is. How about that.

Any thoughts about that?

Not really? The work is very good, and particularly in the novel-related categories, as an example, it represents the current commercial and critical sweet spot of the genre. To reiterate: Four of the six Best Novel finalists hit the NYT Bestseller list this year! You know how many did that in 2006, the first year I was nominated for Best Novel? One (it was from George RR Martin)! In fact it’s entirely possible this year represents the greatest proportion of NYT bestsellers in the Best Novel category ever. Add in the Best Series finalists, and you’ll find three of them (Wells, McGuire, me) have New York Times best sellers in them and sometimes more than one. And of course all these books and authors have starred trade reviews and positive press and reader reviews coming out the proverbial wazoo.

So, do you want the Hugos to be representing the best, commercially and critically, that the genre has to offer? If you do, well, guess what? This is that year! Take a bow, Hugo Award nominators, you nailed the shit out of your remit in 2021.

Now, this doesn’t mean that other people than the ones who hit the finalist list this year did not produce award-caliber work; obviously they did. You could swap out all the authors and works in the fiction categories with others and still have a top-caliber Hugo Award year. But looking at what we do have on the lists? It’s all good, and it all deserves to be there. It’s a very good year for fiction, Hugo-wise.

Yeah, okay, but you know some dudes out there are going to say you’re just on this year’s Hugo ballot because you’re the woke matriarchy’s craven pet.

Those dudes can go fuck themselves with a slotted spoon.

Why slotted?

So they can feel something for once in their sad and pathetic lives.

So for the record: You are saying you are not the pet of the woke matriarchy.

I’m not, but it sounds like a terrific gig. I’ll be happy to apply and I’m ready to learn!

Aside from the written fiction categories, other thoughts on this year’s finalists?

They’re also to me the usual mix of people and works — some established, some new — and there’s the usual clutch of finalist works that will give Hugo observers things to chew on and fight over during this year’s unusually long finalist season. I don’t have too much to say about those at the moment; I don’t know that it was obvious from the outside but I spent a lot of 2020 hunkered down with my own concerns and sat out a lot of things because I didn’t have the time or focus for them. Weirdly, the science fiction world went on without me.

You made mention of this year having an unusually long finalist period. Want to explain that?

Worldcons are usually held either in mid-late August or early September, but this year, thanks to various reasons, it’s going to be held mid-December, in Washington DC. So instead of a four-to-five month period where one is a finalist, this year it’ll be an eight month period. Which is a long time! I’m very curious to see if (and if, then how) this affects how people end up voting for the Hugos this year, and also what if any effect it will have on next year’s ballots. Could be good! Could be bad! Could be both! Or neither! We’ll find out!

That said, I’m kind of digging on the idea of a holiday-adjacent Worldcon. It will be different from all other Worldcons because of it, that’s for sure.

Okay, I’ve got other places to be, so wrap it up.

What do you mean you have other places to be?

I have a life outside of being your Fictional Interlocutor, you know.

No you don’t!

Look, just wrap it up anyway, all right?

Fine. First, if folks are interested in voting for the Hugos this year, they can get memberships at DisCon III, which is this year’s Worldcon. Memberships start at $50, which is good for an associate membership (which allows one to vote for the Hugos), and if you’d like to attend the event, they’re offering a special rate for first-time Worldcon attendees. Which is cool.

Second, congratulations again to all the Hugo finalists this year. I’m happy to be among you. Let’s enjoy this weird and exciting Hugo year.

That’s it?

Yeah, I’m done.

Good. You’re long winded, you know.

That’s a comment, not a question.

D’oh!

— JS

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