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St. Paul author takes home the highest award in sci-fi

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Naomi Kritzer
St. Paul author Naomi Kritzer holds her Hugo Award, one of the most prestigious awards for science-fiction writers.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"The internet loves cat pictures."

It's that idea that powers Naomi Kritzer's Hugo Award-winning short story. 

Kritzer, a St. Paul writer, took home the spaceship-sized Hugo trophy Saturday night. It's one of the most prestigious awards in the science fiction writing.

"It's a classic line: The internet loves cat pictures," Kritzer said. "I started thinking about what if that was literally true: What if the internet itself had a consciousness? Because if it did, clearly it's true: It loves cat pictures."

Kritzer's story, "Cat Pictures Please," was published in Clarkesworld Magazine last year. In it, an artificial intelligence comes to life, and pulls all of its knowledge from the internet. And while the internet is packed with world history and other useful knowledge, it's also home to torrents of cat pictures, pornography and more. Quite the foundation for a newly conscious being.

"The A.I. decides to take steps to keep humans from coming to harm," Kritzer explained. "But it's not a robot. It doesn't have a body. All it can do is try to manipulate people — and so it does."

Kritzer attended the Hugo Awards ceremony at the World Science Fiction Convention this past weekend, which was held in Kansas City. She was seated just one person away from George R.R. Martin, the fantasy phenom behind "Game of Thrones." (No, she didn't ask him when the next book is coming.)

For Kritzer, who has been writing science fiction for 20 years and has a series of novels to her name, it was a tremendous moment to hear her name called in front of a crowd full of legends like Martin.

She remembers first falling in love with science fiction when she was just out of toddlerhood. "Star Wars" hooked her.

"It was for me, at four, the most amazing thing in the universe — in my life. I loved it," she said. "When I learned to read, I discovered that there were books, that I didn't have to wait for more movies. I could find books that had spaceships and swords and all that."

That passion for spaceships and swords led her to tear through Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time" — and then to try writing stories of her own. Writing was a passion that turned into a full-time commitment for Kritzer after college.

But even finding the time to write hasn't always been easy: When her youngest daughter was a baby, she would only nap if she was in a moving car.

"So I would take my laptop, put it in the passenger seat next to me and drive around until she fell asleep. Then I'd pull over, pull out the laptop and write until she woke up," Kritzer said. "When she'd cry, I'd close the laptop, put it away, and drive again until she fell asleep."

Now that her daughters are older, Krizter has more time to write — unless she gets distracted by the internet. The weird corners of the web you can stumble into while procrastinating were also an inspiration for "Cat Pictures Please."

She credits her writing group, which she has been a part of for more than 20 years, with keeping her on track.

"This is such a great city to be a science fiction writer in," Kritzer said. "There are so many science fiction writers who live in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the suburbs. ... I feel so fortunate to be part of this community ‐ both of Twin Cities writers and Twin Cities fandom."