McHugh, Maureen F

Tagged: Author

(1959-    ) US writer (her middle initial stands for nothing) who began publishing sf with "All in a Day's Work" for Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine in 1988 as by Michael Galloglach. About half of her fairly modest production of stories was assembled as Mothers and Other Monsters: Stories (coll 2005), including "The Lincoln Train" (April 1995 F&SF), which won both a Hugo and a Locus Award; later stories were assembled as After the Apocalypse (coll 2011), a collection which focuses on the almost impossible task of making do as civilized human beings in literal Post-Holocaust venues, or – perhaps even more devastating – the kind of America depicted in "Useless Things" (in Eclipse Three: New Science Fiction and Fantasy, anth 2009, ed Jonathan Strahan), a land transformed and desiccated by Climate Change.

McHugh's first novel, China Mountain Zhang (1992), which won the James Tiptree Jr Award in 1993 although it had been criticized for loose plotting, works in fact as a complex and multi-faceted Near Future portrayal of a twenty-second century world dominated by China, through the eyes of the eponymous gay half-Chinese protagonist, who drifts through the world with a kind heart, an accurate eye, and a constant apprehension of death, for homosexuality (see Sex) is a capital offence. The text includes excursions to Mars, and various episodes which only seem to be longueurs if China Mountain himself were about to change the world: which he is not. McHugh's second novel, Half the Day is Night (1994), makes similarly acute observations of the ways human beings may cope with a straitened, desperately crowded future, fitting them on this occasion into a more tightly organized plot: a French-Vietnamese recently in Africa comes to a Caribbean city built Under the Sea to work as a bodyguard for a woman banker threatened by assassination. The premise that the world is more complicated than protagonists – even of sf novels – can understand properly clearly governs McHugh's first two novels, and dominates the rest of her work.

Mission Child (1998) is set on a colony planet (see Colonization of Other Worlds), where some human colonists enjoy (or endure) an existence whose technological level approximates that of the planet's natives, while other colonists, with more sophisticated Technologies at their command, intervene disastrously in the local life and Ecology. The protagonist's disrupted life, and the arbitrarily imposed Gender issues that sharpen her newly évolué status, intensify the sense McHugh's central focus is (translated into Earth terms) on the peoples of the Third World. This sense is strengthened in her fourth novel, Nekropolis (2001), each of whose two protagonists is even more profoundly (and emblematically) enslaved than those of her previous books: one is "jessed", a process which enforces a servant's absolute obedience to her master; the other, an Android, is programmed to flatter his owners' sense of entitlement. Their escape from a rather arbitrarily envisioned Middle East environment (McHugh's Feminist disdain for Moslem attitudes towards women is not entirely seasoned by knowledge) proves to be partially illusory. They may be free of some visible impairments, but they remain servants in the First World that ultimately owns the planet. [JC]

Maureen F McHugh

born Loveland, Ohio: 13 February 1959

died

works

collections

works as editor

  • Plugged In (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2008) with L Timmel Duchamp [anth: chap: pb/Lynne Jensen Lampe and Sarah Salmela]

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