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Barnes, Steven

Entry updated 30 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1952-    ) US author, married to Tananarive Due from 1998. He began publishing work of genre interest with "Moonglow" in Vampires, Werewolves and Other Monsters (anth 1974) edited by Roger Elwood, and his career was primarily associated in its early days with Larry Niven, Barnes's collaborator on most of his early novels, including the first, Dream Park (1981). The Dream Park sequence – the title is the name of a park which houses a wide variety of high-tech Role-Playing Games (see also Game-Worlds; Virtual Reality) – continues with The Barsoom Project (1989) and Dream Park: The Voodoo Game (1991; vt The California Voodoo Game 1992), both also with Niven, and has moments of relatively light-hearted agility, especially perhaps in the second volume, in which a terraformed Mars (see also Terraforming) is advertised, although the action does not leave Earth. Further collaborations include The Descent of Anansi (1982) with Niven; the Avalon sequence, comprising The Legacy of Heorot (1987) and The Dragons of Heorot (1995; vt Beowulf's Children 1995) with Niven and Jerry Pournelle, a saga of planet-exploitation which takes some names from – but which is in no clear fashion based on – Beowulf, and which reflects many of Pournelle's convictions; and Achilles' Choice (1991) with Niven alone, which returns to a game-world atmosphere, though it is not a literal game-world setting, in a tale set at a time when athletes can aspire to join the planet-dominating corporate elite by winning at competitions, the catch being that they must "Boost" to achieve stardom, and that only the winners are saved through real-time computer monitoring of the effects of doing so. There is a sense here that Social Darwinism may have been wrought beyond its uttermost. Saturn's Race (2000) is a Technothriller, though the eponymous undersea entity invokes more interesting worlds of discourse.

Barnes's solo work has been perhaps less infected by the sadisms of the arena. The Aubry Knight sequence – comprising Streetlethal (1983), its sequel Gorgon Child (1989), and Firedance (1993 [1994]) – are moderately down-to-earth adventure tales set in the kind of Cyberpunk urban venue – in this case, post-earthquake Los Angeles (see California) – that is always said to be gritty, with an abundance of sf instruments involved in keeping the action moving, though arguably the non-whites trapped in the centre of the city are demonized. The Kundalini Equation (1986) engages its author's long interest in martial arts. Blood Brothers (1996) comes unusually close to the bone for Barnes (who is himself Black) in its Equipoisal handling of the nineteenth century in terms that mix horror tropes with a Time Viewer narrative which depicts a terrifying world in a fashion more expected from an author like Octavia Butler. Less stressfully occupying similar territory, the Alternate History sequence comprising Lion's Blood: A Novel of Slavery and Freedom in an Alternative America (2002) and Zulu Heart (2003), is set in an America settled in the north by Vikings and in the south by Blacks; as he has done before, Barnes resorts to an Odd Couple pairing of racially distinct and initially opposed protagonists. The underlying impulse of his work, beyond some obvious commercial turns of story, seems ameliorative. The Prehistoric SF Ibandi sequence comprising Great Sky Woman (2006) and Shadow Valley (2009) is less ambitious, but Twelve Days (2017) is a complex Near Future tale in which Technothriller and Horror in SF motifs coexist while the End of the World is threatened. [JC]

see also: Leisure; Spaceships.

Steven Emory Barnes

born Los Angeles, California: 1 March 1952



Dream Park

Aubry Knight


Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Star Wars


  • Great Sky Woman (New York: One World Books, 2006) [Ibandi: hb/Glenn Harrington]
  • Shadow Valley (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2009) [Ibandi: hb/Glenn Harrington]


individual titles


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