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Kingsbury, Donald

Entry updated 10 July 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1929-    ) US-born academic and author, in Canada from 1948, naturalized in 1955, a teacher of mathematics at McGill University from 1956 until his retirement in 1986. He began publishing sf with "The Ghost Town" in Astounding for June 1952; he produced relatively little for nearly 30 years, though his intermittent appearances in Astounding, with both fiction and nonfiction, were generally noticed. What could not have been noted – because of the sparseness of his production and the wide-ranging nature of his underlying construct – was that almost everything he wrote shared a common Future History, somewhere into the middle of which his first novel, Courtship Rite (1982; vt Geta 1984), fitted smoothly; indeed, the polished sweep and exuberance of this large, epic Planetary Romance must have owed something to Kingsbury's long familiarity with its sustaining Universe. The planet Geta is a venue amply complex enough to contain several warring cultures, for whom all aspects of life are agonistic; complicated group marriages (see Sex); an elaborate ethical and ecological justification of cannibalism in a world of terrible scarcity (see Ecology) since native flora and fauna are almost uniformly toxic; and the highly productive worship of a God in the sky (God being, in fact the Starship that seeded the world, now in standby orbit) who rewards worship by raining down computer chips full of precious data. The plot, involving the forced courtship of a woman from another culture by members of a group marriage, is perhaps less convincing than the background; but the pace is sufficient to intrigue and to engage even those readers who might be dubious about the Libertarian assumptions underlying certain elements of the unrelenting agons of Geta. The short story "Shipwright" (April 1978 Analog) is set in the same universe as Courtship Rite, as is «The Finger Pointing Solward», which Kingsbury began writing in the 1950s and several times referred to in interviews; the only published portion of this novel, set some 500 years after Courtship Rite, is the excerpt "The Cauldron" in Northern Stars: The Anthology of Canadian Science Fiction (anth 1994) edited by Glenn Grant and David G Hartwell,

Kingsbury's second novel, The Moon Goddess and the Son (December 1979 Analog; exp 1986), is set so early in his Future History that the Near-Future setting of certain parts of the tale seems directly extrapolative of current thinking about space Technologies. The Hard-SF arguments, about the design and construction of Space Stations capable of grappling space freighters into dock, are as gripping as this sort of narrative can sometimes be; and later sections, featuring the eponymous Diana a generation or so further on, adequately point a way forward into romance. A third novel, "The Survivor", forms the bulk of Man-Kzin Wars IV (anth 1991) in the Larry Niven Man-Kzin Wars Shared-World enterprise; it is bleak and exorbitant, and constitutes a self-sufficient tale.

Psychohistorical Crisis (in Far Futures, anth 1995, ed Gregory Benford as "Historical Crisis"; much exp 2001) is in some ways the most ambitious of Kingsbury's works, and seems indeed to have climaxed his career. A deliberate homage to – and sophistication of – the Imaginary Science of Psychohistory as coined by Isaac Asimov to underpin the earlier volumes of his Foundation sequence, this extremely long tale spoofs the notion that psychohistory must be secret lest the vast populations whose behaviour it purports to predict become unreliable once they know the roles they should be performing unconsciously. As a covert Sequel by Other Hands – the Asimov estate refused Kingsbury permission to set his novel explicitly in the Foundation universe – Psychohistorical Crisis focuses complexly and colourfully, in a narrative voice as numbingly serene as Asimov's at its surest, on the moment when it becomes clear that the only way for the monitors of the Galactic Empire actually to keep the expanding, fractal complexity of history on the psychohistorical rails would be to cheat: which is to say to stack the deck: to conspire to rule. (The later volumes of Asimov's sequence come to essentially the same conclusion.) Though psychohistory – and by inference any sf Thought Experiment – is seen in this novel as essentially scuppered by its immensely unstable and energy-guzzling negentropic nature, Kingsbury treats tenderly the pathos of the longing to predict (see Prediction); Psychohistorical Crisis is as much a love letter to "First Sf" as it is its refutation.

Kingsbury is a writer whose energy has been conspicuous, though rarely deployed. His three substantial novels stand as a triad of gifts, loving memorials to the long, enclosed history of twentieth-century sf. [JC]

see also: Anthropology; Canada; Gods and Demons.

Donald MacDonald Kingsbury

born San Francisco, California: 12 February 1929



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