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Elgin, Suzette Haden

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of US poet, author and teacher Patricia Anne Suzette Wilkins Elgin (1936-2015) for her sf. She combined writing with a professional specialization in Linguistics, having a PhD in linguistics from the University of California, San Diego; she was a professor of linguistics at San Diego State University 1972-1980, subsequently emeritus, and published widely in her specialist field. Her sf began in May 1969 with "For the Sake of Grace" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which was incorporated into At the Seventh Level (1972), part of an ongoing Space Opera series featuring the interstellar adventures of Trigalactic Intelligence Service agent Coyote Jones; with its two earlier companions, The Communipaths (1970 dos) and Furthest (1971), it was assembled as Communipath Worlds (omni 1980). Further titles, Star-Anchored, Star-Angered (1979) and Yonder Comes the Other End of Time (1986), did little to lessen the somewhat distressing discrepancy between the ramshackleness of the Coyote Jones plots and the terse eloquence of their descriptions of the meaning-systems of and Communication with alien cultures, in which the condition of women (particularly in Furthest) is described with sufficient point that the books are used as Feminist texts. In conjunction with the series, Elgin created an artificial language or conlang known as Láadan, based on a feminist understanding of the "strong" version of the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, which argues that each language enforces a particular understanding of the world; First Diction and Grammar of Láadan (1985; exp 1988) argues this case and describes the language.

A second series, the Planet Ozark trilogyTwelve Fair Kingdoms (1981), The Grand Jubilee (1981) and And Then There'll Be Fireworks (1981), assembled as The Ozark Trilogy (omni 1982) – cannot be said to solve her inability to find plots of a sufficient knottiness to hold her attention (the young heroine of the series, whose magic secretly rules the planet Ozark, is in a coma for much of the final volume); but Elgin's linguistic inventiveness, and her light-hearted detailing of the magic-based Ozark culture, give the books a charm they do not convey in synopsis. (Yonder Comes the Other End of Time is also set in this milieu.) Far more interesting, though still fumblingly plotted, is Elgin's third series, the Native Tongue trilogy, comprising Native Tongue (1984), The Judas Rose (1987) and Earthsong (1994), which is based on a lame initial premise – a 1991 Amendment to the US Constitution declares women inferior to men on the basis of "scientific" evidence – which fails to significantly hamstring the heart of the book: tightly narrated tales of the creation of a "womanlanguage" for self-protection (though the tongue itself is only fleetingly presented). The caricatured unpleasantness of almost all men, which both heightens and trivializes the first volume, becomes less significant in the second; superior Aliens have arrived, and the fragile carapace of male superiority gets short shrift; and in the third volume, women are forced by an alien quarantine – Earth has been sealed off because the human species is so violent – to work out an end to the "hunger" which leads to typical male behaviour. But the pleasures and lessons of Elgin's texts continue to lie more in texture and insight than in deriving arguments from sf premises.

In 1978, Elgin founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and soon issued a usefully supportive text, The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook (rev from informal 1986 release 2004). The SFPA's Elgin Award is named in her honour. [JC]

see also: Poetry.

Patricia Anne Suzette Wilkins Elgin

born Missouri: 18 November 1936

died 27 January 2015



Coyote Jones

Planet Ozark

  • Twelve Fair Kingdoms (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1981) [Planet Ozark: hb/Michael Flanagan]
  • The Grand Jubilee (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1981) [Planet Ozark: hb/Gary Friedman]
  • And Then There'll Be Fireworks (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1981) [Planet Ozark: hb/Margo Herr]
    • The Ozark Trilogy (Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1982) [omni of the above three: Planet Ozark: hb/Tony Fiyalko]

Native Tongue

  • Native Tongue (New York: DAW Books, 1984) [Native Tongue: pb/Jill Bauman]
  • The Judas Rose (New York: DAW Books, 1987) [Native Tongue: pb/Jill Bauman Versandi]
  • Earthsong (New York: DAW Books, 1994) [Native Tongue: pb/John Jude Palencar]

individual titles

  • Peacetalk 101 (Maple Shade, New Jersey: Lethe Press, 2003) [pb/Matt Bauer]



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