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Kenyon, Kay

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1956-    ) US author who has worked as an urban planner, a profession reflected in the architectonic solidity of her worldbuilding. From her first novel, The Seeds of Time (1997), her work has been notable for its focus on the particular nature of the planets where she sets her sometimes overcomplicated human dramas. She is a good example of the evolution of the perhaps over-egged 1980s debate between Cyberpunk writers and Humanists, perhaps rewritten as a debate between Hard SF and baroque Space Opera. In The Seeds of Time, time travellers (see Time Travel) attempt to save the Ruined Earth by restocking her with fauna from other worlds; Leap Point (1998), set in the Near Future, portrays a rural America where invasions of Virtual Reality that contaminate the Internet crosshatch with Alien incursions; Rift (1999) complicatedly mixes Space Opera action, as a damaged Space Habitat is fled, and a Terraforming project that has gone disastrously wrong must be salvaged; in Tropic of Creation (2000), a human expedition to a seemingly unoccupied planet (see Colonization of Other Worlds) discovers an Underground world rife with Aliens.

After her first her four novels, which are too ambitious and glossy to be thought of as apprentice work, Kenyon began to expand her remit. The loose unnamed series comprising Maximum Ice (2002) and The Braided World (2003) is perhaps overcomplicated, and the crystalline Computer – so primitive that it must cover the surface of the planet Earth in order to preserve essential data from an interstellar data-eater – has the ring of 1930s super-science. (Similar exorbitances in John Clute's Appleseed [2001] are rhetorical expressions of how Homo sapiens might self-consciously dramatize its fate.) Maximum Ice begins in the Near Future, as a scapegoated culture of Romanies escapes the Disasters afflicting Earth in a Generation Starship, but turn back after aeons when the galaxy seems unhospitable; on Earth, their Cryogenically preserved leader must save the world from the unChristian Ice Nuns. In The Braided World, inhabitants of this genetically impoverished world mount a (privately financed) exhibition via a newly invented Faster Than Light drive, land on the complex planet Neshar, where their prejudices almost cause their destruction, as well as damaging Neshar's human-like civilization. The series ends.

Of greater interest, and far more coherent, is The Entire and the Rose, a Cosmological epic somewhat afflicted with Planetary Romance tropes, comprising Bright of the Sky (2007), A World Too Near (2008) and City Without End (2009). The architecture of the worlds in the sequence is involuted: those who inhabit The Entire are aware that our own world, The Rose, occupies an Alternate World reachable through Wormholes, though Time runs at different rates in the two realities. The human protagonist, after losing his family in The Entire, returns there to combat Aliens whose insectoid behaviour is perhaps reminiscent of invaders from other Dimensions in M John Harrison's A Storm of Wings (1980) or Steph Swainston's Science Fantasy, The Year of our War (2004): the latter in particular conveys a flavour of worldbuilding that so marks – and at times justifies – Kenyon's family romance plots. Through the three volumes published by the end of 2009, a dimension-piercing river (not entirely dissimilar to the river structure that dominates The Braided World) conveys much of the action.

Throughout her career, Kenyon has conflated rich impastos of human interaction with plots that require cartoon behaviours from otherwise plausible characters; a proper balance of contrivance and veracity may, in the end, generate an exceeding impressive, and almost certainly extremely long, epic of twenty-first-century sf. [JC]

Kay Kenyon

born Milwaukee, Wisconsin: 2 July 1956



Maximum Ice

The Entire and the Rose

Dark Talents

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