Kathleen Ann Goonan (1952-2021)

Kathleen Ann Goonan died January 28 at the age of 68.

After teaching for 13 years, she turned to writing full time in 1988. She also attended Clarion West that year. Her first published sff story was “The Snail Mail” in Strange Plasma (1991). Goonan’s first novel Queen City Jazz (1994) began what she would later call her Nanotech Quartet, which also includes Mississippi Blues, Crescent City Rhapsody and Light Music.

The Wikipedia notes:

Goonan is best known for novels which give snapshots taken at different times of a world where nano- and biotechnologies (“bionan”) produce deep changes in humans and their habitat. She explored themes of cultural and social change and catastrophe. She was a great lover of jazz and music in general, and peppered her tales with references to (and reincarnations of) the likes of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Sun Ra.

Her essay “Science Fiction and All That Jazz” explained the pairing that permeated her own fiction.

…Music and literature are natural partners. Both have an overall form, a time-bounded sequence of beginning, middle, and end. The lyricism of notes or of words sequenced in a particular way, the cadences of timing or plot, lead, if properly balanced, to a single cumulative experience in the mind of the listener or of the reader. There is an undeniable musicality to great works of literature — the booming symphony of War and Peace, or the deep-consciousness rhythms of To the Lighthouse, where we might almost be in the mind of Miles Davis or John Coltrane. When an artist (or an improvisational jazz ensemble) composes a work of music or of literature, organizational impulses are at work. We all have musical brains.

Science fiction, like jazz, found its major flowering in America, despite those who claim Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the Ur-text of science fiction. Hugo Gernsback’s vision of the scientification of the future thrilled readers with tales of seemingly impossible wonders. But sending the spoken word through wires, flying en masse through the air, and going to the moon turned out to be not fairy tales, but reality. We seized on the wonders made possible by science. We magnified our senses. We did away with big chunks of time and space, or rearranged them. We have changed the rhythms of nature into the rhythm of our own minds and needs via technology, and we are going to be doing a lot more of that. Science fiction is the only literature that takes the real world — the world of genetic engineering, quantum physics, and other keys to unlocking life’s meaning and potential — seriously….

Goonan’s novel In War Times was the 2008 winner of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and chosen by the American Library Association as Best Science Fiction Novel for their 2008 reading list. Her work This Shared Dream also was a 2012 Campbell finalist. With these books, said Goonan to a Lightspeed interviewer, “I have moved on to an investigation of ‘human nature,’ in particular looking at the sociobiological roots of our strong predilection for war.”

She was a three-time Nebula nominee, for her novels Crescent City Rhapsody (2001; it was also a BSFA Award finalist) and Light Music (2004), and her short story “The String” (1997).

Her book The Bones of Time was a Clarke Award nominee (2000). Her novel and Queen City Jazz and short story “Sunflowers” also were BSFA Award finalists (1999, 1996).

[Thanks to James Davis Nicoll for the story.]

14 thoughts on “Kathleen Ann Goonan (1952-2021)

  1. Damn. I really enjoyed her writing and I echo Soon Lee’s appreciation of especially the Nanotech Quartet. This year isn’t being even better than the last year was so far.

  2. Oh no!!! I loved “Girl In Wave: Wave In Girl.” A few years ago she said that there was actual ongoing research and field work which came out of that collaboration with ASU. Real world work towards universal literacy. I meant to go look it up at the time, and didn’t. Now, I can find nothing about it. Any of y’all know anything about that?

  3. Kat, the story you’re looking for was published in the Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future anthology which was edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer. It’s the only place that it’s been published to date. It’s available from the usual digital suspects.

  4. Goonan wrote dazzling, exciting, cutting-edge science fiction that happened to be set in the Midwest. She was innovative and unconventional and an all-around interesting and nice person. I hope her books will be surprising and delighting readers for a long time.

  5. I am so very sorry to learn of her death. Just loved Kathy, and we had many great conversations over the years at conventions and workshops.

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  7. Thanks @Cat, that is indeed where I read the story! Like the other stories in the Hieroglyph project, it was the product of a collaboration between a science fiction author and (at least one) scientist at Arizona State University.

    I understand that some real-world work has come out of that collaboration. A real-world literacy project, and don’t I wish I had written the name of down somewhere. It’s that real-world project that I’m trying to find information on. It would have been done in the years after the story collection came out.

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