Paul: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen …
Kim: Bon soir, mesdames et messieurs …
Paul: … and welcome to the 63rd annual Hugo Awards for Superior Achievement in the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Kim: … et bienvenue a le soixante-troisieme Prix Hugo pour achèvement plus-plus-grande dans le champ de Fiction-Scientifique et Fantastique.
Paul: As you know, the Hugo Awards are named for the father of modern science fiction – that tireless self-promoter, prolific journalist, pioneering inventor of television and the steam-driven automatic pencil, and editor of the world’s first real f-s magazine: Victor Hugo.
Kim: Born in 1802, Victor Marie Hugo is little-remembered for his comparatively rare excursions into fiction, though connoisseurs rate highly his 1862 dystopian vision, Les Misérables, in which everyone lives unhappily under the jackboot of the tyrannical Frère Énorme …
Paul: … and, of course, for younger readers, there’s the enchanting tale of a gypsy girl, her pet goat and a flying alien from another dimension, The Jet-Pack of Notre Dame.
Kim: But Hugo’s real achievement was his founding, in 1879, of the quarterly periodical Histoires Étonnaments, whose first number modestly bore the legend ‘le journal meilleur de fiction-scientifique dans le monde entire’ and featured the crude, vigorous adventure writings of Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, and Eugene Sue, plus poetry on an f-s theme by Arthur Rimbaud and a cover painting of a brass rocketship, an angry octopus from Saturn and a swooning mademoiselle with a fishbowl on her head by the teenage prodigy, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.
Paul: As an editor, Victor Hugo shaped f-s as a literary movement, often making suggestions that made massive improvements to now-classic works. For instance, he persuaded Marcel Proust to alter the title of A la Recherche du Temps Perdue to Mind-Quest of the Tempunauts, and to issue his mammoth work in ten separate volumes, inventing the decalogy form which dominates the field to this day . . .
Kim: … and his was the guiding hand behind Jules Verne’s famous Three Laws of Automata: a homunculus, automaton or other artificial being shall not serve a human red wine with fish, must always alert a human to shortfallings in the quality of his cuisine with a mechanical cry of ‘sacré bleu’, and shall not (through inaction) allow a human to be seen in public with mismatching gaiters and cravatte.
Paul: Less happily, Hugo entered into an ill-advised association with the Scots hack Arthur C. Doyle, who tired of cranking out scientific detective yarns which regularly scored as ‘least favourite story’ in Étonnaments readers’ polls, and decided to make money by founding his own religion, the Kirk of Spiritology, based on communing via an electrical device with fairies and spirits of the aether. Two years later, Doyle went to the guillotine after more than twenty of the kirk’s disciples were fatally electrocuted while using his device.
Kim: At the age of 113, Victor Hugo was a living demonstration of the efficacy of the monkey-gland transplants he promoted through the back-page advertisments of Étonnaments. In the middle of writing an editorial boasting that he would live to see in the new millennium, Hugo succumbed to apoplexy when the Secret Service smashed down the doors of the offices of the magazine. The Secret Service had mounted the raid because Hugo had just published a story by the obscure English writer Herbert Wells which uncannily predicted the workings of the then-secret Grand Bombe Atomique, the weapon which allowed France to prevail in the Great War of August 1914 to later that afternoon in August 1914.
Paul: Ironically, it was Victor Hugo who ensured that the entire F-S world, a fertile training ground for rocket scientists, would always be centered on France. The only remaining super-power, her atomic empire stretches from Grand Quebec and the Duchy of Louisiana, and through the Emirates d’Afrique Nord to the chain of Ariane Orbital Satellites whose friendly Rayons de Mort enforce the Pax Francais upon a grateful globe.
Kim: Of course, there is another F-S – or should we say sci-fi – tradition, practiced in the Republic de Mexico y California, the Confederate Union and the Thirteen United States of Amerkka. But what our Chicano, Dixieland, and Yankee cousins still fail to understand is that a genre characterised by dry, experimental, inacessible literary elitists like Philip Roth, Newt Gingrich and Gore Vidal can never hope to match the vitality, commercial success and pulp vigour that is M. Hugo’s legacy to the field.
Paul: And so, before the solemn business of handing out awards to the worthy disciples, followers and fanatics of fiction scientifique, we ask you all to raise your glasses …
Kim: … of the correct wine, if you don’t want to be exterminated by the etiquette automata …
Paul: … in this toast
Paul & Kim: Vive l’Empereur Hugo!
Paul: So Kim, do you think the shade of Victor Hugo has been placated by this year’s awards?
Kim: Mais oui. Let’s hope he’s just as happy next year, when the ceremony will be held in a sleepy little town by the Pacific, inhabited only by Jesuits, bandidos and a few wild Indians.
Paul & Kim: So here’s to next year, in El Pubelo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles!
Paul: Before we take our leave, we’re sure you’d like to join us in thanking Mike and Debby Moir and their army of technicians and stage runners for all their hard work in making this ceremony run as smoothly as it possibly could.
Kim: A special shoutout to Microsoft Paris, who supplied the security automata.
Paul: While the winners of awards go backstage to have their photographs taken, we hope that everyone will enjoy the rest of the evening by celebrating fiction scientifique in general and the legacy of M. Hugo in particular. Thank you, and goodnight.
Kim: Merci, et bon soir.
Kim & Paul: Good night!
Kim Newman & Paul McAuley
Interaction, the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention
7th August, 2005
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