Science Fiction Author Vonda N. McIntyre, Official Obituary

By Tom Whitmore: Award-winning Seattle science fiction author Vonda N. McIntyre died April 1, 2019, of pancreatic cancer. She was 70.

McIntyre wrote novels, short stories and media tie-in books, edited a groundbreaking anthology of feminist SF, and founded the Clarion West Writing Workshop. She won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards for her 1979 novel Dreamsnake, and won the Nebula again for her 1996 novel The Moon and the Sun. Her short stories were also nominated for awards. In media fiction, she will probably be most remembered as the author who gave Ensign Sulu a first name (Hikaru) in her Star Trek novel The Entropy Effect: that name was later written into one of the Star Trek films. With Susan Janice Anderson, McIntyre edited one of the first feminist science fiction anthologies (Aurora: Beyond Equality, 1976). She was a participant in the Women in Science Fiction Symposium edited by Jeffrey D. Smith (Khatru #3/4, 1975 – reprinted with additional material as by Jeanne Gomoll, lulu.com, 2008) with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, James Tiptree Jr. and others. Her Nebula-winning fantasy novel The Moon and the Sun has been made into an as-yet-unreleased film, The King’s Daughter, starring Pierce Brosnan. Much of the film was shot in Versailles, and McIntyre delighted in telling how kind Brosnan was to her when she visited the set.

McIntyre founded Book View Café, a online publishing collective for member authors to sell their ebooks. When she developed some joint problems in her hands, she began making what she called “beaded sea creatures,” which she regularly gave to friends and charity auctions. She had a lively correspondence with Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner about them, and some of them are in the Smithsonian Institution.

Vonda Neel McIntyre was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1948. Her family moved to Seattle in the early 1960s, and she earned a BS in biology from the University of Washington. She went on to graduate school in genetics at UW. In 1970, she attended the Clarion SF Writing Workshop – and in 1971, with the blessing of Clarion founder Robin Scott Wilson, she founded the Clarion West Writing Workshop in Seattle. McIntyre continued to be involved with the workshop throughout her life. She enjoyed a close friendship with Ursula K. Le Guin throughout her career that including various editing and publishing ventures.

The Seattle science fiction community recalls McIntyre as the “fairy godmother” to hundreds of Clarion West graduates, many of whom have gone on to be bright stars in the publishing world. “Vonda was one of Clarion West’s founders, and has always been our fairy godmother, bringing comfort and whimsy to class after class with her impromptu visits and gifts of crocheted sea creatures,” said novelist Nisi Shawl, a Clarion West board member. “She was the Good Witch of the Northwest, a fearless public reader and a stellar private writer who is missed by all.”

A memorial service will be arranged in Seattle. McIntyre requested that, in lieu of flowers, people make memorial donations to one of their favorite charities.

For additional information, please call or email her agent, Frances Collin at fran@francescollin.com, 610-254-0555.

Vonda N. McIntyre did ten times as much behind the scenes in the science fiction community than she did out in the open. Her award-winning stories, her media tie-ins, and her editing were all quite visible, and important: more important in the long run will be her legacy of support for individuals and institutions.

After going to the Clarion workshop in Pennsylvania, where she roomed next to Octavia E. Butler, she decided to found a similar workshop on the West Coast. With the aid of Clarion founder Robin Scott Wilson, she started (and ran for three years) Clarion West; when Marilyn Holt and JT Stewart decided to restart it in the 1980s, she continued to advise and support the workshop. Most of Clarion West’s archives were stored in Vonda’s basement. She was a regular donor of both money and items for their auctions.

She was the webmaster for SFWA for many years, and the webmaster for Book View Café ase well.

She supported more writers than anyone realizes. Her friendship and support for Ursula K. Le Guin is well known: they published holiday cards together, and each regularly mentioned the other. She also was strong writing support for James Tiptree Jr., Paul Preuss, Molly Gloss, Nicola Griffith, Nisi Shawl, Octavia E. Butler, and just about anyone else who she met who wrote. She also listened to and cared for folks who didn’t write. She was a quiet, tireless force helping bring women’s voices forth in the SF community.

Her beaded sea creatures are almost pure Vonda. When she began to develop some pain in her hands from arthritis, she decided to take her crocheting skills and create beaded shapes reminiscent of nudibranchs and fractal patterns to give her the needed exercise to keep her hands supple. She began giving them to friends, donating them to charity auctions, and talking with people about them. She had a lively correspondence with Martin Gardner about them. The Smithsonian has examples of her work as well.

Vonda also helped out in small ways. Greg Bear commented about how happy Vonda was to wheel him around when he was temporarily in a wheelchair at the memorial for Karen K. Anderson, his mother-in-law. Every convention organizer who ever had her as a guest was pleased with her smile and her kindness to people working on the convention. She would not accept mistreatment, but never attacked. She had stories about all her friends, and would tell them whenever it was appropriate.

The SF community lost a major pillar today.

16 thoughts on “Science Fiction Author Vonda N. McIntyre, Official Obituary

  1. Dear folks,

    Expanding upon Vonda’s legacy…

    What Vonda called “beaded sea creatures” were more than just amusements and lovely art (I’m happy and honored to own one). Vonda’s work was part of a discipline variously called “mathematical knitting” and “crochet topology.”

    I can’t explain how this works in any detail, for the simple reason that I don’t knit or crochet, but the gist of it is that many mathematical descriptions of topological surfaces can be transformed into a set of instructions for knitting or crocheting or doing beadwork. It’s a wonderful way to instantiate surfaces that are very difficult to visualize from their equations.

    It’s a serious subset of the field of topology and Vonda’s work In this area has been cited in academic publications.

    … and I guess this makes me first… although I wish there were no column to be first about.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    ======================================
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com 
    ======================================

  2. This is a well-written obituary and I learned a lot about Vonda McIntyre from it.

    I had no idea that the Women in Science Fiction symposium was reprinted. Is it still available on Lulu? I’d like to buy one.

  3. Copies of the Women in SF Symposium are listed by various booksellers on ABE (abebooks.com) — if Lulu doesn’t have it listed directly, there’s a strong secondary market.

    Two additional bits about Vonda that I can’t believe I didn’t include: She edited the 2004 Nebula Awards Showcase, and she was a Guest of Honor at the Worldcon in Spokane, Sasquan. She really appreciated the acknowledgement by her peers.

  4. Although Vonda wasn’t actually the webmaster for SFWA’s web page, she did work tirelessly behind the scenes creating and helping maintain web pages for a large number of SFWA members. She also edited SFWA’s Nebula Awards Report for three years. She received the Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award in 2010 for her volunteer work.

  5. Mike, could you fix two relatively minor typos? Marilyn Holt (not Hold) and JT Stewart (not Stuart).

    I miss her so much.

  6. First, the Women in Science Fiction symposium _is_ available from Lulu, and proceeds benefit the Tiptree Award. It’s amazing reading, and it includes the marvelous moment where Tiptree (then not known to be Alice Sheldon) makes a claim about the number of human chromosomes and Vonda counters with, “No, it’s 46. I’ve counted them,” from her biology background.

    Second, I couldn’t concur with Ctein more about the beaded sea creatures. No amount of description does them justice.

    Third, as I said on Twitter, any memory of Vonda that doesn’t include her hospitality and welcoming nature is incomplete. Tom, you did a marvelous job, and I still want to let everyone know that one of her oft-stated ambitions was to have the best guest room in the city of Seattle

  7. Vicki, that link is broken on the HTML side – the visible text is fine and works if you copy and paste it into the address line..

  8. @Geoff Smith

    Was that crack really necessary? Come on.

    (I guess not, since it showed up in my email but not here. Thank you, Mike.)

  9. Thanks, Tom, for a well-written and comprehensive rememberance of a remarkable and immensely talented person. Her passing leaves a huge vacuum in the northwest S-F/Fantasy writing community…but she’s also left an equally huge legacy.

  10. Stephanie Smith and I are compiling essays, anecdotes, poetry, art and photos for a tribute book about Vonda McIntyre. I’ve collected many of the wonderful things folks have written about Vonda here on the File 770 site. Would you give us permission to use your comments in the tribute book? Contact me at: jg@unionstreetdesign.com

    Thank you.

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