Ann Leckie wins top sci-fi award for debut novel 'Ancillary Justice'

'Ancillary Justice' is the first novel ever to win the science fiction 'triple crown' – the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Arthur C. Clarke awards – all in the same year.

Ann Leckie is fast becoming one of the biggest names in science fiction.

Her debut novel, "Ancillary Justice," caused a sensation in the science fiction community, impressing fans and critics alike. Published late last year, the novel has already raked in numerous awards, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and been translated into 10 languages.

And now, the once-obscure writer of short stories has won one of the biggest awards a science fiction and fantasy author can get: the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Leckie's meteoric rise came almost out of nowhere. While she achieved some mild success with a few short stories published in various magazines. But her novel, the first in a planned trilogy, took the world of science fiction by storm, surprising even herself.

"It's like lightning striking," Leckie said to the St. Louis Riverfront Times of her new-found fame.

Leckie's novel, released last October, is a "space opera," an epic and often melodramatic adventure set in space in the manner of "Star Wars." The star of the book is Breq, a character in pursuit of revenge against the ruler of her civilization. The novel is the first in Lecki's planned "Imperial Radch" trilogy.

The novel's Hugo Award is only the latest in a series of awards for Leckie's book, including a science fiction "triple crown": the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Arthur C. Clarke awards. In fact, Leckie's novel is the first ever to win all three prestigious sci-fi honors in a single year, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Hugo Award for Best Novel is one of the oldest and most prestigious awards for science fiction out there. Named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the first magazine devoted to science fiction, the first "Hugo" was given out in 1953.

The winners for the Hugo Award are selected by science fiction fans at the World Science Fiction Convention. This year, the convention was held in London, and 3,587 ballots were cast by the general public, according to the Guardian. Hugo awards, therefore, usually go to the most popular science fiction and fantasy writers of the year. The Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke awards, by contrast, are chosen by panels of experts.

By winning all three awards, Leckie has managed to impress average readers and critics alike, which is no easy feat.

During her Hugo award acceptance speech, Leckie thanked her fans directly. "You write alone, but you write hoping that there will be readers who will connect with what you write and it's so wonderful and amazing – I can't even tell you – when that actually happens. Thank you so, so much."

Leckie's accomplishments come at a particularly active time for women in science fiction. In a field that is still largely dominated by male writers, increasing numbers of women in science fiction have begun to earn unprecedented recognition in the past few years. Last year, for example, all of the winners of the Nebula Awards were women, a first in the history of the prize.

Despite enormous gains in the field, however, there is still a lot of work to be done. Allegations of sexism in the genre, as well as recent allegations of sexual harassment against women at various science fiction and fantasy conventions have prompted calls for change. 

"Sometimes I feel kind of cynical about it," admitted Leckie to the St. Louis Riverfront Times, but she sees signs of hope in the all-female lineup for the Nebula Awards.

"I would love to think that this is a sign of critical mass," she added.

With the Hugo completing her "triple crown," Leckie has secured herself a place in science fiction history, and the future is looking brighter than ever for women sci-fi writers everywhere.

"Ancillary Sword," the sequel to "Ancillary Justice," goes on sale October seventh.

Weston Williams is a Monitor contributor.

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