Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Vonda N. McIntyre (1948-2019)

Vonda N. McIntyre died yesterday. She was a person of many, albeit overlapping, communities, which makes it unusually difficult for me to give a sense of who she was in our world. The most visible aspect of her life, of course, is her published work, which includes Dreamsnake (winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel), the fabulous historical science fiction novel The Moon and the Sun (winner of the Nebula Award), a few other standalone novels, her four-novel Starfarers series, several Star Trek and Star Wars novels, and a host of short fiction, some of which was collected in Fireflood and Other Stories, and includes, from 2005, "Little Faces," which I especially loved, and which was a finalist for the Nebula and Sturgeon Awards.

Vonda was one of those authors whose work I read and loved long before I met her. In fact, her Dreamsnake was among the first science fiction books I ever read. I found it in a bookstore in Salt Lake City, when I was living there in 1978, and it gave me my very first taste of what I later came to call feminist sf. The idea of women being able to learn to control their reproduction through biocontrol enchanted me (and instantly raised the bar for what I expected from science fiction texts), and made me hungry for more such imaginative approaches to biology-- by which I mean the biology that society had told me was destiny--for girls and women. I suspect that that novel in particular helped prepare me for a different conceptualization of biology that I eventually picked up from feminist science studies. In short, I was an early fan of Vonda's. Much later, reading Joanna Russ's letters to Alice Sheldon (which can be found in the University of Oregon's Special Collections), I inferred, without surprise, that Joanna and Vonda must have had many intense conversations in the 1970s about all things feminist and science fictional because Joanna often referred to what Vonda had said about this or that when writing to Alli Sheldon.

I first saw Vonda in the flesh a few years later, after I'd moved to Seattle, at a women writers conference (graced by such stars as Maya Angelou, Joanna Russ, Toni Cade Bambarra, and Carolyn Forche). Vonda gave a reading as well as participated on a panel I attended. I don't think I'd ever before seen a woman wearing blue jeans and a blazer (which I'd often known male mathematicians and musicians to do), and seeing her do so instantly made me want to, also. What I recall most from both the panel and her reading was my impression of how deeply embedded her science fictional imagination was in her background in biology. She was, to me, a star in a dazzling firmament of stars--all women writers.

Later, of course, after Nicola Griffith dragged my isolated, introverted self into Seattle's community of sf writers, I came to know her, at first as a crusty, trenchantly witty personality and then as a generous force helping make things happen and run smoothly (always unobtrusively). She was, for instance, one of the founders of Clarion West. Later, she helped found the Bookview Cafe and helped produce their ebooks, which I became aware of only when Kath and I were referred to her for much-needed advice for Aqueduct. Her community was larger than these, though, as evidenced by her being a GoH at the 2015 WorldCon, held in Spokane.

I thought a great deal about her last month, while in Port Townsend, because I knew she had only weeks to live. I was stunned by the volume of memories I have of my encounters with her. Like many other people, I know, I'm thankful to have enjoyed her friendship and will miss her actively intelligent presence in the world..   

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