Hugo reading 2017: The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher

Before I even opened The Princess Diarist, I was predicting that it would win its category this year. Princess Leia is such an iconic figure, Carrie Fisher seems to have been an absolutely lovely person, and with so many people so devastated by her recent death, it seemed like a shoo-in.

Having now read the excerpt provided in the Hugo Voter Pack, I’m even more certain that it will win, because it is really delightful – funny, insightful and a bit cheeky. I’m actually a bit sad that we only got an excerpt (a 60-page excerpt, but still), because it is a real pleasure to read.

The subtitle of this work is ‘a sort of memoir’, and Fisher based it on the diaries she kept as a young woman around the time when she starred in Star Wars.

The first section we get is Fisher reflecting on the suddenness of her Star Wars fame, and how she and her co-stars dealt with it. Apparently, nobody expected the film to do so well, so they had booked the three lead actors in for this rather extensive promotional tour which turned out to be entirely redundant. Fisher talks about trying to figure out what her personal style would be for interviews – Harrison Ford was apparently given to quoting from philosophers, something which Fisher, who had dropped out of school in year eleven, was unable to do, so she decided to take philosophy tutorials from a local university. But having done so she quickly ‘determined that to have two actors spouting philosophical gems to the moviegoing public was a bit much – a bit of smuggler monkey see, princess monkey do.’

“So after a very short while, I gave up on looking intelligent, thank God, and I continue that to this day. I would make it look like a devious plan when I seemed less than effervescent and approaching pedestrian (without a cross-walk). You couldn’t accuse me of doing a less-than-stellar job on the Johnny Carson show without my insisting that you had forgotten my telling you that that had been my attention all along.”

This is characteristic of Fisher’s style – self-deprecating, charming, and very much like someone I would like to be friends with.

She is also quite irreverent and not afraid to mince words.  The second chapter in the excerpt is called ‘Leia’s Lapdance’, which is how she refers to paid signings, talks, photographs – essentially the ways in which one earns a living by being an object of fandom’s adoration.  It’s an odd sort of piece, because it mixes a sort of fondness for her fans with what almost feels like contempt for herself for making a living from them.  There are lots of little quoted monologues – probably not reproduced exactly, but clearly quite typical in style – from fans trying to make a connection without tripping over their tongues, which seem both affectionate and a bit bemused – why are these people doing this?  And then she will say something like this:

“I need you to know that I’m not cynical about the fans. (If you thought I was, you would quite properly not like me, which would defeat the purpose of this book and of so much else that I do.)  I’m moved by them.

There’s something incredibly sweet and mystifying about people waiting in lines for so long. And with very few exceptions, the people you meet while lap dancing are a fine and darling lot…”

Fisher also talks about the weird realisation that she was a sex symbol (“It’s truly an honour to have been the first crush of so many boys.  It’s just difficult to get my head around having spent so much time in so many heads – and that time was of a certain quality.”), and the disappointment she gets from people on realising that she no longer looks like her 19-year-old self.

The final section we get in the voter pack is Fisher talking a little about Leia and her relationship with Leia and reflecting on who she might have been without Leia. Again, there is a theme of having been almost overwhelmed by her fame, and by her Leia persona, and resenting this, even as she realises that it was career-defining and career-launching.  There is also a certain amount of reflection on why, precisely, it is always the bikini outfit she is immortalised in.

So there you go.  I’m eschewing all critical thought and putting this one at the top of my ballot for now, simply because I enjoyed reading it,.  It’s just more fun to read something that is a coherent memoir than a collection of essays, at least for me.  Though I may yet change my mind and put Ursula Le Guin at the top again.

One left to read in this category, but you’re going to get some more Campbells first, because I’ve realised that if I read one more short story, that will give me my next batch of two authors to write about.

My goal is to finish the Campbells and Related Works Categories, and then I’m hoping to get through Best Novel and Best Series (the latter because I’ve already read three of the six series, and do not feel compelled to read more than the Hugo packet for the other three).  I think the films and TV episodes will be going by the wayside, as will the Zines.  Ooh, and I do want to read the Fan Writer category for Chuck Tingle.

All in the next nine days.  I may be a trifle over-ambitious here…

Also, I have to finish writing this week’s short story.  I’m doomed.

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