Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Charnas, Suzy McKee

Entry updated 7 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

Icon made by Freepik from


(1939-2023) US author and former teacher, with an MA in that field. She began publishing sf with the Holdfast Chronicles, an emotionally intense and tightly argued series of novels examining Gender relations and some of the possible consequences of radical change set in a Ruined Earth; the sequence comprises Walk to the End of the World (1974), Motherlines (1978), both assembled as Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines (omni 1989; vt The Slave and the Free 1999), The Furies (1994) and The Conqueror's Child (1999), which won the James Tiptree Jr Award. The first volume presents an elaborately structured, neurotic, Post-Holocaust semi-rural community called Holdfast, a misogynist Dystopia whose white, homosexual males treat women ("Fems") as scapegoats for humanity's near self-destruction, which is known as the Wasting. Male homosexuality, breeding as an act of disgust, and the dominance of elder males, all reflect, clearly knowingly, Katharine Burdekin's Swastika Night (1937), published as by Murray Constantine, in which the Nazi rulers behave similarly. The second carries the continuing character, a rebellious female protagonist, into a feminist (see Feminism) alternative beyond the town, a matriarchal high-plains venue where Cloned women on horseback ride free and scapegrace; the protagonist comes to govern a third group, the hierarchical Free Fems. In the third volume, she leads them back to the disintegrating dystopia, where revenges are exacted, and a maturely ambivalent conclusion offers neither the solace of easy forgiveness between the sexes, nor hope for any simplistic solution to the problem of human violence between the sexes and in other spheres: what happens, in the end, given the human nature that governs both sexes, is that Holdfast is not liberated but conquered. In the final volume, an intricate intersection of acts based on mixed motives and partial understandings generates a society that may – though always at risk – transcend hierarchy, whether it is based on sex, or power (guns reappear suddenly), or tradition. The books have aroused continuing interest for the extreme clarity of Charnas's dramatic examinations of extreme positions.

This unremitting focus on the implications of her tales, along with a habitual failure to repeat herself, probably cost Charnas some market security over the years. However, her next book was extremely successful: The Vampire Tapestry (coll of linked stories 1980) recounts the life and thoughts of a Vampire anthropologist whose experiences, in the end, lie within the human range; the third of the linked stories thus assembled, "Unicorn Tapestry" (in New Dimensions 11, anth 1980, ed Robert Silverberg and Marta Randall), won the 1980 Nebula award. Dorothea Dreams (1986) is a ghost story in which modern Albuquerque, New Mexico (where Charnas lived), intersects with Revolutionary France, bringing its protagonist sharply into an awareness of her human obligations to the world. The Sorcery Hall trilogy – The Bronze King (1985), The Silver Glove (1988) and The Golden Thread (1989) – features juvenile protagonists banded together to protect mundane reality from the malefic otherworld; it is a traditional theme, but crisply told, and further underlines the clear lines of thought – and moral persuasiveness – permeating her work. A short Werewolf story, "Boobs" (July 1989 Asimov's), combining Feminism with Horror as a girl takes revenge for her treatment by the male world during puberty, won the Hugo for 1989. Further short work was assembled as Stagestruck Vampires & Other Phantasms (coll 2004). [JC]

see also: Asimov's Science Fiction; Monsters; Utopias; Women in SF; Women SF Writers.

Suzy McKee Charnas

born New York: 22 October 1939

died Albuquerque, New Mexico: 2 January 2023



Holdfast Chronicles

Sorcery Hall

  • The Bronze King (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, 1985) [Sorcery Hall: hb/Eric Velasquez]
  • The Silver Glove (New York: Bantam Starfire, 1989) [Sorcery Hall: hb/Yvonne Gilbert]
  • The Golden Thread (New York: Bantam Starfire, 1990) [Sorcery Hall: hb/Yvonne Gilbert]

individual titles


about the author


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies