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Jones, Gwyneth

Entry updated 6 February 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1952-    ) UK author who began publishing work of genre interest with "Felicia" (in Junior Winter's Tales, anth 1975, ed M R Hopkins), and who became widely known in the 1980s after she began to publish adult novels; over the reach of her career, however, most of her books have been juveniles, beginning with Water in the Air (1977), a fantasy; from Dear Hill (1980), she has written sf and fantasy almost exclusively; and from 1981 – with Ally, Ally, Aster (1981) as by Ann Halam and The Alder Tree (1982) as by Ann Halam, which exploit Norse and Gothic material – she has released almost all her Young Adult novels as by Ann Halam. King Death's Garden: A Ghost Story (1986), as by Halam, is a darkly subtle, smoothly stark tale set in Brighton, where Jones lives (though no longer in the house by the cemetery which inspired the story). Set in a Ruined Earth Inland, which is governed on deep-Ecology lines by women, the Zanne series – comprising The Daymaker (1987), Transformations (1988) and The Skybreaker (1990), all as by Halam – is framed bracingly as sf, though the elements of magic in the tale seem at times distortive. Young, rebellious Zanne slowly learns to control her innate rapport with the forbidden high-tech Power Sources of the old patriarchal world-destroying hegemony, and becomes, willy-nilly and by protracted stages, an active agent in the sane preservation of Inland. Jones's last juvenile under her own name, The Hidden Ones (1988), is a contemporary Science Fantasy tale whose punkish teenage protagonist is afflicted with Poltergeist phenomena resulting from her uncontrolled power of Telekinesis. In Jones's further Young Adult titles she has consistently refused to cater to any presumed need on the part of young readers for continuing characters or other comforts: in Dinosaur Junction (1992), as by Halam, the young protagonist is confronted with dilemmas relating to Time Travel and meets a Dinosaur; Dr Franklin's Island (2001) as by Halam plays sternly with the implications of H G Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896); the protagonist of Taylor Five (2002) as by Halam is a Clone caught up in revolutionary strife in Borneo; Snakehead (2007) as by Halam provides a revisionist take on the Medusa myth; Proof of Concept (2017) engages its young protagonist in an attempt to escape an Earth ravaged by Climate Change through something like Matter Transmission.

Jones's first novel for adults, Divine Endurance (1984), remains her most widely admired. Like the Zanne books, it is set in a Ruined Earth venue governed by a matriarchy, but neither setting nor premise are presented with the clarity appropriate in a juvenile text. No dates are given, but Jones's enormously complex Southeast Asia venue has a Dying Earth tonality; and the matriarchal society she depicts is riven by profound ambivalences. The protagonist, a female Android named Chosen Among the Beautiful, and the eponymous Cat which accompanies her, dangerously agitate the scene by arriving in it, and a civil conflict begins to devastate the long polity of the land. The hard melancholy and sustained density of the book are unique in recent sf. Technically a sequel, Flowerdust (1993) – the title refers to a drug – expands a background episode from the first book. Escape Plans (1986) attempts some of the same density of effect of the first novel through an acronym-heavy style and a bruising presentation of the Computer-run Dystopian world in which the action takes place, but the sacrificial descent from other-world luxury of the female protagonist and her implication in an inevitable revolt have little of the resonance of her predecessor's structurally identical gift of self. Kairos (1988), along with the first two books – Flowerdust is sidebar, and should not be considered part of the pattern being described – makes up a kind of thematic trilogy featuring profoundly divided women who descend into the world and redeem it – is set in a Near-Future UK degenerating into fascism or anarchy. The title of the book is a theological term designating the moment of fullness in time when Christ appears, and clearly glosses the dramatic centre of each volume of the implied trilogy. In this case the female protagonist descends into the disintegrating UK's netherworld through ingesting a drug, Kairos, which literally recasts reality around her. The world she creates is cleansed of the grosser forms of evil.

The Aleutian Trilogy – comprising White Queen (1991), which won the James Tiptree Jr Award in 1992, The North Wind (1994) and Phoenix Café (1997) – is more explicitly organized as a sequence. Beginning with an examination of some dilemmas of First Contact, through the device of an Alien invasion of a depleted, Cyberpunk-coloured Earth, the sequence moves becomes a sharply meditative (though plot-heavy) analysis of Gender issues; human mortality (as contrasted with the serial Immortality apparently enjoyed by the aliens); the Linguistic cruces that complexify the two species' attempts at Communications. The conclusion, in which the human race embraces its (seemingly superficial) differences to engage on the task of survival after the aliens have left, is perhaps less convincing than Jones's extremely interesting examination of the Biology and mores of the aliens, who are known here as Aleutians. A connected tale, Spirit: The Princess of Bois Dormant (2008), though focusing on an explicit re-playing and re-coding of Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-1845), attempts with some (if not entire) success to develop the gender and other cultural arguments of the initial series within a frame set several centuries later.

A later series, the Bold as Love sequence – comprising Bold as Love: A Near Future Fantasy (2001), which won the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2002, Castles Made of Sand (2002), Midnight Lamp (2003), Band of Gypsys (2005) and Rainbow Bridge (2006) – combines sf and fantasy tropes which meld into assertions of an sf base, though the complexities of the tale – Jones does not perhaps very effectively distinguish amongst her large talkative cast, several of them rock stars (Music being integral to the sf/fantasy meld) – make any simple analysis of its final implications exceedingly difficult. A singleton, Life (2004), which won the Philip K Dick Award in 2005, testily addresses Feminist issues in a congested Near Future where the effects of Genetic Engineering on Gender issues is seen as problematic but hopeful. In her adult novels Jones is a writer who combines a nearly unforgiving intensity with occasionally slapdash storytelling; her relatively occasional short fiction, assembled as Identifying the Object: A Collection of Short Stories (coll 1993 chap) and Seven Tales and a Fable (coll 1995), confirms a sense that she is most comfortable at lengths which give her room to think hard, and perhaps recklessly; and to recover from longueurs. Her critical work, much of it assembled as Deconstructing the Starships: Science, Fiction, and Reality (coll 1999) and as Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology, and Politics (coll 2009), won her a Pilgrim Award in 2008.

Over the wide compass of her work, the rewards for understanding her are so considerable that the task of learning how to do so seems light enough. [JC]

see also: Automation; Cyborgs; Interzone; Psi Powers; Women in SF.

Gwyneth Ann Jones

born Manchester, England: 14 February 1952


adult fiction


Divine Endurance

  • Divine Endurance (London: Allen and Unwin, 1984) [Divine Endurance: hb/Miller, Craig & Hawking]
  • Flowerdust (London: Headline, 1993) [Divine Endurance: hb/Mark Harrison]

Aleutian Trilogy

  • White Queen (London: Victor Gollancz, 1991) [Aleutian Trilogy: hb/Adrian Chesterman]
  • North Wind (London: Victor Gollancz, 1994) [Aleutian Trilogy: hb/David Farren]
  • Phoenix Café (London: Victor Gollancz, 1997) [Aleutian Trilogy: hb/David Farren]
  • Spirit: The Princess of Bois Dormant (London: Gollancz, 2008) [connected to the Aleutian Trilogy: hb/Jon Sullivan]
  • The Buonarotti Quartet (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2009) [coll: Aleutian Trilogy: pb/Lynne Jensen Lampe]

Bold as Love

individual titles

  • Escape Plans (London: Unwin Hyman, 1986) [hb/Lionel Jeans]
  • Kairos (London: Unwin Hyman, 1988) [hb/John Millar]
  • Life (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2004) [pb/Lynne Jensen]


children's fiction



  • The Daymaker (London: Orchard Books, 1987) as by Ann Halam [Zanne: hb/Nick Bantock]
  • Transformations (London: Orchard Books, 1988) as by Ann Halam [Zanne: hb/John Avon]
  • The Skybreaker (London: Orchard Books, 1990) as by Ann Halam [Zanne: hb/Paul Finn]

individual titles



previous versions of this entry

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