Local author and journalist Jason Heller on winning a Hugo Award

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Jason Heller (second from right) poses with the rest of Clarkesworld's Hugo=winning staff. Photo by James J. Seals.
Longtime Westword readers will recognize the name Jason Heller. For years, Heller was one of the paper's premier music writers, covering the local and national music scene with insight, wit and sharp writing. These days, he's expanded his portfolio to include national outlets such as The A.V. Club and Pitchfork and published his first novel -- the science-fiction political satire Taft 2012. And as of this past weekend, he can add "Hugo Award winner" to his already impressive resume, thanks to his work as nonfiction editor at the prestigious Clarkesworld webzine, which took home the 2012 award in its category (Best Semiprozine). We recently caught up with Heller to ask him how it felt to win science-fiction's most prestigious award and catch up with what else he's doing these days.

See also: Science-fiction film: Are we on the cusp of a golden age?

Westword: Congratulations on winning a Hugo. That must be pretty mind-blowing.

Jason Heller: It is totally fucking mind-blowing. It has not sunk in. Yeah, it's just a little bit unreal. You grow up reading books, science-fiction books, and all your favorite books have "Hugo Award-winning" and you see that stamp on so many classics. Then, for me personally, you get older, you get more into fandom and you learn what that actually means and what the history of it is, so to actually have one of those fucking things is actually kind of nuts.

For readers who aren't as familiar with the Hugos, can you explain the significance of it?

The quickest analogy is it's the Oscars of the science fiction world. It honors excellence in different media, and those change over the course of time. There didn't used to be -- the Hugos were first awarded in the '50s, so there wasn't science-fiction television, so that has kind of evolved. Now classic novels, film, TV and podcasts as well as websites and publications of science fiction and fantasy are all considered for Hugo awards every year. They're voted on by members of the World Science Fiction convention every year. It is kind of like having the Academy vote for the Oscars every year. There are lots of kinds of awards, like with TV and film, in the science-fiction world that are up there toward the top, but the Hugos are definitely considered the big one. So yeah, kind of mind-blowing.

It's funny, when we had to do our photo shoot afterward, they herded all of the winners into a room and took big group photos. Sitting right in front of me, literally three inches away as I was standing up, was George R.R. Martin. It was just like ... I mean, there are lots of different writers of all different levels all around, but he won for Game of Thrones TV show, so it was pretty mind-blowing. Also, he brought with him the actor who plays the Hound on the show, so this 6' 8" Scottish dude is standing right next to me -- I'm squashed up against him during the photo shoot. So just completely unreal.

Nice bonus -- not only do you get the honor and a trophy, but the Hound sweated on you a little bit.

Exactly. I always have to point out that it wasn't me alone, by any means, who won the award. Each of us in the editorial team for Clarkesworld get our own statue and everything. I was the nonfiction editor for Clarkesworld in 2012. There were four of us on the editorial team, including the publisher and fiction editor Neil Clarke, who Clarkesworld is named after. He's the main guy -- the driving force, the founder of the whole deal -- and I was lucky enough to be able to have been part of that team during that year and I did my best to maintain the standards of the nonfiction articles that they run on the website alongside the short stories that they are known best for. It wasn't like I was singled out, me personally, it was me being part of a team, a team effort, and something that had actually been going for quite a while. That bears a little emphasis, I think. But I'm more than happy to take the statue! [Laughs]

Can you tell us a little more about Clarkesworld? They do short fiction, nonfiction and podcasts?

Yep. They do podcasts of the stories that are published. All the content is free online, but you can also get subscriptions to it. It's one of the most highly regarded venues for short science fiction and fantasy. There are the traditional science-fiction and fantasy magazines that have been around for a long time, that you can still find on what you consider the newsstand these days, if there is still such a thing. They're still made in print, anyway. You have Analog, and Fantasy and Science Fiction, otherwise known as the big three. They all have still retained that old-school printed digest format, whereas Clarkesworld was conceived as an online entity.

Neil Clarke has just had a great eye over the past few years, really singling out and soliciting up-and-coming science fiction and fantasy writers and established ones, getting their best work out of them, working with them to print the kind of science fiction and fantasy that can sometimes be edgier and more experimental, and less blatantly commercial than you can get away with in novels. It's a place to read cutting-edge, for lack of a better term, science fiction and fantasy that is of a more literary quality. Clarkesworld is one of the main places to go to for that.

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