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Goonan, Kathleen Ann

Entry updated 15 April 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1952-2021) US author who began publishing work of genre interest with "Wanting to Talk to You" for Asimovs in 1991; a Round-Robin story, "The Darcy Bee" (February 1998 Omni Online) with John Clute, Elizabeth Hand, Jonathan Lethem and Kim Newman, has been dated 1988 in error: it is not her first publication. Goonan remains best-known for the Nanotech Cycle – comprising Queen City Jazz (1994), Mississippi Blues (1997), Crescent City Rhapsody (2000) and Light Music (2002) – which depicts an America so transfigured by Alien-imposed Nanotechnology that the country seems, at first glance, to be caught in the throes of a Post-Holocaust collapse (see also Zone). But Crescent City Rhapsody, the first volume in terms of internal chronology, slowly and intricately demonstrates that the transformations later depicted were long in coming, and that the electronic "Silence" imposed on Earth has helped give birth to an intensely enriched world. Each volume of the quartet refers to a mode of Music, and it becomes as clear as Goonan (who is not a vividly dramatic writer) can make it that the new world may best be understood as profoundly wedding information and music. The first two volumes tell the central story of the Wanderjahr and pilgrimage southwards to Crescent City (see City; Island; Utopia) of the sequence's main protagonist, a Clone named Verity, who hopes to resuscitate her murdered boyfriend and to find her lost telepathic Dog; and who is played by, and who ultimately tunes, the world. Goonan's deep interest in the nature of story does not wholly irradiate a narrative prone to disquisition and moments of stall; but by infusing the entire Cauldron of Story of the human world into the mind/being of seemingly minor character – and by giving the nanotech-configured book which this character has become the name Hopscotch, after the experimental, story-irradiated 1963 novel by Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) – she further demonstrates the constant ambitiousness of the Nanotech Cycle. The final volume – whose heavy plotting only partially coats over the intellectual ferment of the whole – moves towards Transcendence as Crescent City, now revealed as not only a quasi-sentient or "Enlivened" entity but also a Generation Starship in utero, struggles towards its interstellar destiny, carrying its hive of human bearers of the music of the spheres.

Goonan's two singletons are also of interest. The Bones of Time (1996) is set in a Near Future Hawaii haunted by illegal Clones of earlier rules of the Island state, and riven by the Realpolitik antics that put the launching of a Generation Starship in doubt; the novel clearly echoes and prefigures, on a muted stage, the larger rhythms of her main sequence. In War Times (2007), which begins the Dance sequence, is also a thematic sibling, but stands genuinely alone: it is an Alternate History of the twentieth century from the beginnings of World War Two up to the time of the Kennedy assassination, though its central intellectual focus is again on music (jazz once again) as intrinsicate with physics, and as world-timer. There are central scenes in 1940s New York, featuring Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and Charlie Parker. The novel, which won a John W Campbell Memorial Award, is also a homage to her own father. In the sequel, This Shared Dream (2011), the next generation of the Dance family, haunted by memories of an Alternate History in which their mother died preventing the assassination of President Kennedy, find themselves involved in a Changewar with forces attempting to defend yet another time line: on the outcome of the conflict, which involves considerable Time Travel, depends the possibility of a genuine non-coercive Utopia on planet Earth.

Goonan was one of the central authors of the first or second generation for whom sf was a natural tongue; a tongue capable of playing necessary tunes. [JC]

Kathleen Ann Goonan

born Cincinnati, Ohio: 14 May 1952

died Tavernier, Florida: 28 January 2021



Nanotech Cycle


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