This Is How We Won a Hugo Award

I began writing this on Saturday evening, had to stop because of programming obligations, and am picking it up on Sunday for posting Monday.

Last night, This Is How You Lose the Time War won the Hugo Award for Best Novella.

I’m writing this from a place of such calm warmth, such peace, it’s difficult to even summon up the memory of how opposite I felt at this time yesterday; remembering a time before the announcement feels like watching from outside my own body, witnessing someone vibrating at sufficiently different a frequency to be another person all together. I recall that while I was getting ready — putting on makeup, deciding on earrings — Stu asked me a question, some perfectly normal human question about normal human things, and I just stared at him because the nervousness had become a language barrier and I could no longer understand his normal human speech.

Given the high pitch of my being, the fraught texture of my whole self, I couldn’t actually sit and watch the ceremony from beginning to end. I didn’t feel ready for it — for my peers’ potential gaze, for the possibility of tech failures, for the immediacy of opinion and cheer and contradiction that might come. I wasn’t on the official Discord channel, I wasn’t even on Twitter until much, much later — but Stu was, and sometimes his narration of winners being announced and people’s reactions to the ceremony would pierce through the haze of anxiety-noise while I tried to steady myself. He told me that Naomi Kritzer’s gorgeous Catfishing on Catnet won the Lodestar, that Bogi Takács won Best Fan Writer and Elise Matthesen won Best Fan Artist, and I rejoiced for each and then vanished back into my nerves.

Nevertheless, I was getting a sense of a keen contrast between the winners’ speeches and the pre-recorded remarks between them — a contrast in affect, intention, narrative. It wouldn’t be until later that I’d learn — am still, in fact, learning — just how sharp and painful those contrasts were. I’ve now listened to every speech delivered by winners last night, and they make the most energizing, moving tapestry together, and I’m all the more deeply honoured that Max and I could speak among them. Here’s Jeannette Ng’s; here’s R. F. Kuang’s; here’s Arkady Martine’s, just for a start, as the ones that most gripped me by the heart.

(If you’d like to watch and hear all the rest, you can find them most easily by scrolling through this edit of the whole ceremony — trimmed down to one hour and forty minutes from three and a half hours by foregrounding only the speeches with some connective tissue. You can watch the whole untrimmed ceremony here.)

When the time came for our category — the penultimate one! — the screen froze right before the actual announcement. We had no idea who’d won! And then the title card appeared, but the words were scrambled for aesthetic effect, and we didn’t realize we’d won until technology put our faces on the screen at the same time and Max and I could see each other and shout and scream our shock and joy.

This Is How You Lose the Time War won a Hugo Award. Max and I won a Hugo Award together. My dear, dear friend and I not only got to write a book together, we got to see it launched into the arms of those who would love it most fiercely and best, those who would press it into the hands of their own loved ones, who would make art of it and quote lines from it and ink words from it into their skin. Every single one of you who loved this book and shared it made this possible, whether or not you were also voting members of Worldcon; your breath is the wind in its sails as it travels up and downthread, along all of spacetime’s parallel meridians.

Here’s the text of our speech:

M: Kia Ora! We’re so honored to accept this award. Thank you so much, to everyone who read and loved This Is How You Lose the Time War, and to everyone who voted for it in a year when our fellow finalists are so staggeringly brilliant. We admire you and your work so much, and it’s been an honor to be part of this cohort. 

A: We’re forever grateful to everyone who helped make all of this possible—to all the volunteers at ConZealand who’ve been working so hard to do absolutely unprecedented work on this scale, thank you so much for all you’ve done—and to everyone who made our book possible: Navah Wolfe, the best editor we could have hoped for (and the BEST EDITOR point final! Boom! Has now won a Hugo twice!!), to DongWon Song, agent most extraordinary, and to everyone at Saga Press & Jo Fletcher Books who worked to get our book into the world, including but not limited to Greg Stadnyk, Molly Powell, Jo Fletcher, and Milly Reid.

M: I’d like to thank my wife Stephanie, always and forever. Also my parents and my sister for their constant support since my first scrawled, phonetically spelled stories, and Bob and Sally Neely who give copies of my books to everyone they know—and Uncle Danny for the Zelazny and Leiber and Uncle Paul for the Star Trek tapes.

A: I want to thank my husband Stu for everything from tea to terrible puns, and my parents and siblings for a lifetime of cheering on my writing, for their steadiness and constancy in the face of so many upheavals. I can never thank them enough. 

M: Annual celebrations—anniversaries, cons—have a way of sneaking up on you. There’s a cascading, lightning quality to the memories they evoke: you’re living your everyday life and then all of a sudden you cross some invisible threshold and there you are, connected with last year and the year before all the way back to the beginning. And even earlier than that.

A: For many of us, this Worldcon may feel like a break in a chain; but we invite you to think of it, instead, as a broadening of space, a widening of our circles. In a sense this is as “world” as the con has ever been; a vision of Worldcon in a world where the only borders are lines in time.

M: To travel in time you have to understand time. There’s no one history of the world—every telling leaves things and people out. But everything that happens, has happened. 

A: We’re taught history as if it’s a letter written from the past and addressed to us, but if that’s true it’s a letter from a sybil or a spy, allusive, full of hidden meanings and secret writing. The work of a life is learning to read between its lines—and then, learning to reply. 

M: But you can’t write back to the past. You can only write to the future. So, write. 

A: Write, we have always been here. 

M: Write, it doesn’t have to be like this. 

A: Write, it gets better, because we will make it better, together.

M: Write, this is how we win. 

A: Kia Ora. Thank you all so much.


Next up: a whole newsletter about the amazing silk capelet by Miri Baker I’m wearing in the acceptance video, because it is so fabulous it requires that focus!

Best,

Amal

PS: Did you know that Max also has a newsletter? You can sign up for it at his website, and read his side of the Hugo experience here!