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Arnason, Eleanor

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1942-    ) US author who began to publish sf with "A Clear Day in the Motor City" for New Worlds 6: The Science Fiction Quarterly (anth 1973; vt New Worlds #5 1974) edited by Michael Moorcock and Charles Platt. She has since published stories and poems with some regularity; a selection has appeared as Ordinary People (coll 2005). Her first novel, The Sword Smith (1978), is a Fantasy notable for the spare elegance of its narrative, which focuses with modest intensity upon its young protagonist's slow grasp of life's meaning; Daughter of the Bear King (1987) is also fantasy. Arnason's first sf novel, To the Resurrection Station (1986), which is suffused with Gothic imagery, brings a wide range of characters together in contexts which wittily embody Feminist readings of the world. With A Woman of the Iron People (1991; vt 2vols as In the Light of Sigma Draconis 1992 and Changing Women 1992), which won a James Tiptree Jr Award, Arnason came suddenly to wider notice. The long tale is set on a complicated stage: on the planet of Sigma Draconis II, inhabited by an Alien race seemingly in thrall – as is frequently the case in 1980s sf – to the imperatives of a sexually coercive biology (see Sex), a party of Terrans is attempting to come to some understanding of this species. The plot, in true Planetary Romance fashion, takes two humans and two aliens on a trek through the various domains and landscapes of the world, and lessons not unlike those taught in The Sword Smith – though far more complexly put – are imparted with regard to sexual dimorphism, the nature of violence and the intrinsic value of individual persons; and evidence is presented that Homo sapiens may have learned some wisdom from the Disasters which, prior to the novel's timespan, had almost destroyed Earth.

Similar dilemmas are examined, even more sharply, in the first story in the Hwarhath sequence, Ring of Swords (1993), where an interstellar war between humans and the Alien hwarhath, is at the point of being resolved in mutual understanding, or exploding calamitously. The chaotic ruthlessness of humanity, and the rigid gender separation of the hwarhath, are scrupulously exposed and judged in scenes of very considerable intellectual force; and the outcome – as perceived by some of the most complexly conceived characters in modern sf – is hopeful. Beginning with "The Hound of Merin" (in Xanadu, anth 1993 ed Jane Yolen and Martin H Greenberg), Arnason continued the sequence through an array of linked stories, all told from the hwarhath point of view; they have been assembled as Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens (coll of linked stories 2016), and complexly represent, especially in novellas like "Dapple: A Hwarhath Historical Romance" (September 1999 Asimov's) and "The Potter of Bones" (September 2000 Asimov's), an Anthropological perspective on Homo sapiens (in particular) that has over the years proved increasingly intense, evoking a number of comparisons with her older contemporary, Ursula K Le Guin. Such comparisons usefully point to what might be called the methodical brilliance of both authors, whenever a culture is to be examined, and its folk given their space to speak to us. More exuberantly, Big Mama Stories (coll 2013) applies Arnason's characteristic approach to a series of Tall Tales [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] set in intergalactic space; Hidden Folk: Icelandic Fantasies (coll 2014), on the other hand, is unified by its focus on the folklore of Iceland. [JC]

Eleanor Atwood Arnason

born New York: 28 December 1942




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