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Asaro, Catherine

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1955-    ) US physicist, with a PhD in Chemical Physics from Harvard University, author, and editor who for a short period produced a Semiprozine paying professional rates, Mindspark, with five issues between August 1993 and Fall 1994. At about the same time she began publishing work of genre interest with "Dance in Blue" in Christmas Forever (anth 1993) edited by David G Hartwell. She remains best-known for the complex ongoing Saga of the Skolian Empire Space Opera sequence, whose individual volumes focus on different events over a wide time span, without making up a single story arc, though the Triad sub-sequence – Schism (2004) and The Final Key (2005) – specifically precedes the central pattern of stories; that main sequence comprises Primary Inversion (1995), Catch the Lightning (1996), The Last Hawk (1997) and its immediate sequel Ascendant Sun (2000), The Radiant Seas (1998), The Quantum Rose (2000), Spherical Harmonic (2001), The Moon's Shadow (2003) and Skyfall (2003).

The universe of the sequence, which is described in Hard SF terms, is at times difficult to plumb, especially for readers who – because the venues where much of the action takes place are colourful – may have anticipated the more relaxed explanatory structure typical of the Planetary Romance. Her use of plot turns generated through applications of quantum physics does not quite attain Oulipo rigour, but adds interest. The narrative parameters of the overall series are clear, however: within a frame provided by the Allied Worlds centred on ancient Earth, the Skolians and other imperia (like the slave-trading Eubian domain) interact aggressively; archaic dynastic intrigues out of traditional Space Opera (and much contemporary Dynastic Fantasy) are both softened and darkened by an unusual intensity of romantic emotion on the part of various rulers and heirs as they interact, come together, break up, shake their worlds near to destruction. Much depends on the capacities (or incapacities) of various significant figures as regards what Asaro calls "psiberspace", a kind of Cyberspace whose lines of Communication and what might be called network radiance involve Telepathy. All these circumstances govern the first published volume, Primary Inversion; later volumes only increase the sense of emotional chargedness and political consequence which depend on almost every action, every emotional response or initiative.

The second instalment, Catch the Lightning, places an intense narrative into an Alternate History version of twentieth-century Earth, seguing halfway through into broad-gauge action in the universe to which we were previously introduced. In The Last Hawk, one of the strongest single titles in the series, a handsome Skolian princeling crash-lands on a matriarchal planet; his experiences as a player of Games both literal (men gain a limited form of prestige as players of a complex game on behalf of their female quasi-owners, the outcomes governing political changes in the outside world) and sexual (see Gender) as he is forced to take what humans on Earth would define as the proper female role in a series of sexual encounters which, when undergone by a male, seem oppressive. In Ascendant Sun, set a few decades later, the Skolian princeling escapes to find that – after a devastating war – he is heir to the throne; but is captured again, this time by the Eubian Traders, where he undergoes more enforced Sex. The relatively weak The Quantum Rose – which won a Nebula award perhaps in part to catch up with the rapid growth of Asaro's reputation – continues the romance/space opera pattern, not excluding yet another incognito Skolian princeling. Further volumes, some of them patchily engrossing, continue the sequence as before, though the Eubian foes are given point-of-view in The Moon's Shadow. There was a sense that (after its early high points) the series had begun to tread water, though an omnium-gatherum tale like Carnelians (2011), which brings together most of the significant figures from the entire sequence, adroitly fixes Asaro's grand narrative in the reader's eye. The Major Bhaajan subseries beginning with The Bronze Skies (2014) is entertaining but deliberately sidebar, though its noirish plots involving the eponymous private investigator are engaging.

Though she has concentrated on Saga of the Skolian Empire, Asaro has published some other work of note. Both The Veiled Web (1999) and The Phoenix Code (2000) – which intriguingly examines the Turing test of consciousness within a romantic triangle frame (one of the three being an Android with attitude) – are of interest, and "The Spacetime Pool" (March 2008 Analog) won a Nebula for best novella. But it does seem that Asaro may have come close to exhausting the vein of admixed romance and Hard SF that characterized her early work. The Aronsdale/Lost Continent sequence beginning with The Charmed Sphere (2004) is fantasy; a related novella is "Moonglow" in Charmed Destinies (coll/anth 2003) with Mercedes Lackey and Rachel Lee. [JC]

Catherine Ann Asaro Cannizzo

born Oakland, California: 6 November 1955



Saga of the Skolian Empire

Saga of the Skolian Empire: Triad

  • Schism (New York: Tor, 2004) [Saga of the Skolian Empire: Triad: hb/Luis Royo]
  • The Final Key (New York: Tor, 2006) [Saga of the Skolian Empire: Triad: hb/Luis Royo]

Saga of the Skolian Empire: Major Bhaajan

  • Undercity (New York: Baen Books, 2014) [Saga of the Skolian Empire: Major Bhaajan: pb/Alan Pollack]
  • The Bronze Skies (New York: Baen Books, 2017) [Saga of the Skolian Empire: Major Bhaajan: pb/Alan Pollack]
  • The Vanished Seas (New York: Baen Books, 2020) [Saga of the Skolian Empire: Major Bhaajan: pb/Alan Pollack]
  • The Jigsaw Assassin (New York: Baen Books, 2022) [Saga of the Skolian Empire: Major Bhaajan: pb/David Mattingly]

Aronsdale/Lost Continent

  • The Charmed Sphere (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Luna, 2004) [Aronsdale/Lost Continent: pb/]
  • The Misted Cliffs (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Luna, 2005) [Aronsdale/Lost Continent: pb/Stephanie Pui-Mun Law]
  • The Dawn Star (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Luna, 2005) [Aronsdale/Lost Continent: pb/Stephanie Pui-Mun Law]
  • The Fire Opal (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Luna, 2007) [Aronsdale/Lost Continent: pb/Stephanie Pui-Mun Law]
  • The Night Bird (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Luna, 2008) [Aronsdale/Lost Continent: pb/]

Sunrise Alley

  • Sunrise Alley (New York: Baen Books, 2004) [Sunrise Alley: hb/Jeff Easley]
  • Alpha (New York: Baen Books, 2006) [Sunrise Alley: hb/Alan Pollack]

individual titles

works as editor


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