Debut author Arkady Martine has won the Hugo for best novel during a virtual ceremony hosted by George RR Martin that frequently turned deeply political.
Martine’s novel A Memory Called Empire, about an ambassador who travels to an interstellar city to take up a new post and discovers her predecessor was murdered, took the world’s top science fiction prize at the ceremony on Friday. The most prestigious awards in science fiction, the Hugos have been won in the past by some of the biggest names in the genre, from Philip K Dick and Isaac Asimov to Ursula K Le Guin, Arthur C Clarke and, three years in a row, NK Jemisin. The winners are voted for by members of WorldCon, the annual convention that hosts the prize.
Martine said it was “an especially sharp honour to receive this award for my first novel”, describing the win as “a kind of welcome, an invitation to stay, a gesture of hospitality”.
The Hugo for best novella went to This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, while Emergency Skin won Jemisin another Hugo, this time for best novelette.
Jeanette Ng took the best related work award, for her acceptance speech last year at the Hugos upon receiving the John W Campbell award for best new writer, in which she called Campbell a fascist who set a tone “of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists.” The prize was later renamed the Astounding award.
Accepting her prize this year, Ng said that “pulling down memorials to dead racists is not the erasing of history, it is how we make history”.
“[Michael] Moorcock has been calling Campbell a fascist for years, but … my voice is shriller and I’m not white, and that makes me sound angrier, I become graceless and vulgar. But I really didn’t think I was saying anything new,” said Ng. “I’m grateful you all proved me wrong. It doesn’t stop here, the fight isn’t over and it extends well beyond the pages of our books … Let us be better than the legacies that have been left us.”
Ng begged listeners “not to look away from Hong Kong”, and called on her fellow authors to “come together to write the future of joy and hope and change”.
Best graphic story went to LaGuardia, written by Nnedi Okorafor, with art by Tana Ford and colours by James Devlin, while best longform dramatic presentation went to Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Douglas Mackinnon. Accepting the prize, Gaiman said that he only made the show because the late Pratchett “wanted me to”.
“Terry never won a Hugo. The only time he was nominated he withdrew the novel from consideration, telling people that if he had a book nominated it would ruin his WorldCon. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, it was that he cared too much,” said Gaiman.
Pratchett had thought, said Gaiman, that a Hugo would never go “to anything funny”. “Thank you,” he told fans, “for giving Terry Pratchett his Hugo award.”
Martin is this year’s “toastmaster”, a role he carried out by Zoom from the Jean Cocteau, his theatre in Santa Fe. The fantasy novelist had promised last year that, if he had not finished his long-awaited Game of Thrones novel, The Winds of Winter, by the time WorldCon rolled around, fans would be permitted to “imprison me in a small cabin on White Island, overlooking that lake of sulfuric acid, until I’m done”.
Novel as yet unfinished – although “going well of late,” according to an update in July – Martin appeared in a top hat and red braces, with a stuffed toy lion and a stuffed toy wolf in front of him to represent the Lannisters and the Starks.
He finished by urging fans to register to vote in next year’s WorldCon – and urged Americans to vote in November’s election. “For Christ’s sake let’s try to get this country back, and let’s try to get a decent human being in the White House,” he said.