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Jill Jess Phythyon
KU News Service
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KU professor earns high honor for science fiction writing

Tue, 10/16/2012

LAWRENCE – Kij Johnson, assistant professor of English at the University of Kansas, recently won a Hugo Award, considered the most prestigious U.S. honor for science fiction writers.

Johnson earned the majority vote among six nominees in the Best Novella category. Her work "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" also won the Nebula Award earlier this year.

"For us, it (the Hugo) is the one with the most prestige. The Nebula and the World Fantasy are very, very close though. Those three are kind of like the 'hat trick' in the United States," said Johnson.

She was pleased with the story, but she said winning the Hugo Award was unexpected.

"The Hugo is a popular vote by the members of the World Science Fiction Society. Because of how it is structured, an online presence can be very beneficial and I don't really have much. I keep mine pretty simple anymore."

Johnson found it confusing to allow her personal and professional life to intersect online. She said that it had an effect on her writing.

"The only way to separate your private life completely is to just not do any of it online. I mean, be completely transparent with your (professional) presence, but keep a part of you just utterly outside of it," said Johnson.

Similarly, the intersection of professional and personal life created tension for the main character of "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," Kit Meinem. Kit, a bridge-builder, arrives in the town of Nearside to finish the construction of a bridge across the mist. Johnson said she wanted to characterize Kit as someone who struggled socially, but excelled professionally. She said she wanted to let readers get inside his head. Kit experienced conflict when he realized the construction of the bridge may have negative consequences for his lover, Rosali. His relationship with Rosali was part of a secondary plot in which Kit learned to relate to others on a new level.

Lois Tilton of Locus Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field recommended the work for its characterization. Tilton wrote that Johnson avoids the "cliché sci-fi fantasy plot."

"None of that here," Tilton wrote. "Kit comes to bridge the mist, and his bridge is built, accidents and bureaucrats notwithstanding. The real story is the way it alters the people."

Johnson's work often is nonlinear or deconstructed, but she stuck with traditional conventions on "The Man Who Bridged the Mist."

"Most of what I write is experimental. … So this was me saying, 'I'm going to write a conventional narrative that starts at the beginning, ends at the end and it's going to have two plots,'" said Johnson.

Johnson studied history as an undergraduate. She said she thinks reading outside of literature is beneficial to a fiction writer. She received letters from readers thanking her for the architecture and engineering content in "The Man Who Bridged the Mist." She also said that a psychology background is one of the most useful tools for a fiction writer.

"If that means taking a lot of psych classes or if that means seeing a therapist– whatever it is, it's great because it forces you to see the mind as it operates and to keep going inside," said Johnson.

The Hugo Awards were announced Sept. 2 at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago.



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