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Kress, Nancy

Entry updated 15 April 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1948-    ) US author, married to Charles Sheffield from 1998 until his death in 2002 and married to Jack Skillingstead from 2011; she also writes as by Anna Kendall. She began publishing sf with "The Earth Dwellers" in Galaxy for December 1976, though her first novels were fantasies like The Prince of Morning Bells (1981), a quest tale during which, surprisingly, the young princess involved ages into an old woman before the close, and The Golden Grove (1984), which, again surprisingly, treats Greek myth with something of the iron darkness it merits. After a further fantasy novel, The White Pipes (1985), and an intermittently rewarding collection, Trinity and Other Stories (coll 1985), which includes the Nebula-winning "Out of All Them Bright Stars" (March 1985 F&SF), Kress moved vigorously into sf with her fourth novel, the slow-moving but cumulatively impressive An Alien Light (1988), set on a planet inhabited by two sets of irreconcilably opposed humans, the descendants of the people from a migratory Starship that had crashed there centuries earlier after a battle with the Alien Ged. All knowledge of this history has been lost, and the Ged set up a huge technological honey-trap to entice humans inside for study (see Cultural Engineering), as they have found the territoriality and attendant aggressiveness of Homo sapiens baffling. What they learn from the two sets of stranded humans does not lead them to feel that can in the end win a war against a species whose savagery seems ultimately unopposable. Brain Rose (1990), just as impressively, presents an extremely grim Near-Future Earth whose inhabitants are harassed by an AIDS-like disease which eats memory; the protagonists of the tale sign up for medically dubious Previous Life Access Surgery (see Medicine), which is intended somehow to counter the dimming out of the world itself through a "genuine" return to the past, whose face may be the face of Gaia.

Kress is probably best known for the Beggars in Spain sequence, which begins with the extremely impressive Beggars in Spain (April 1991 Asimov's; 1991), a novella – perhaps her best length – which won both a Hugo award and a Nebula; the tale is set within a framework familiar to most sf readers: a group of specially bred children who need no sleep must band together to defend themselves against the jealousy and oppressive behaviour of normal humans, who distrust what are deemed to be their Superpowers. Within this frame Kress embeds speculations about not only Genetic Engineering but also the ethical consequences of "superiority" (see Superman) in a world which demands an "ecology of help" to survive. The sequence continues with a full-length version of the initial novella, Beggars in Spain (1992) which expands the original into an ironic saga set partly in space, and which is almost certainly her best novel yet. In the later volumes of the sequence, Beggars & Choosers (1994) and Beggars Ride (1996), the sequence begins to acquire the scope – and to encounter some of the difficulties of focus – of a genuine Future History; en passant, the efforts of Kress's sleepless, who have in fact become a Pariah Elite, to create a viable Utopia within the context of human civilization prove as a whole sadly optimistic.

A second series, the Oaths and Miracles sequence comprising Oaths and Miracles (1996) and Stinger (1998), set in the Near Future, again engages with issues of Genetic Engineering within a Technothriller frame. More engagingly, the Probability sequence – comprising "The Flowers of Aulit Prison" (October/November 1996 Asimov's), Probability Moon (2000), Probability Sun (2001) and Probability Space (2003), the last a winner of the John W Campbell Memorial Award – generates in a Planetary Romance context a model for the adult psyche (human or Alien) that defines any adult as a being incapable of confusing its Perception of reality with reality itself (unlike human adolescents in general and most human adults). The frame of the sequence – humans, having discovered Matter Transmission, explore nearby planets where they learn that some Forerunner civilization seems to have created mutually fertile humanoid species throughout the galaxy – is less absorbing than her examination of the Alien inhabitants of a planet called World, who are reality sharers: consensus about the probable nature of reality being wired in. As seems to be the pattern with her longer works, the later volumes of the sequence seem to lose edge, though the Hard SF concerns with the physics of new Weapons do continue to interact effectively with the exploration of the nature of Homo sapiens; and her basic investigative premise remains compelling.

More recent fiction includes Dogs (2008), a light (if that term can be used) rendering of the kind of Paranoia-inducing Pandemic-Disaster tale frequently indulged in by writers like Stephen King (see Horror in SF); in this case Dogs turn feral because of a global conspiracy. Much more soberly, Steal Across the Sky (2009), somewhat as does Probability, presents a galaxy where human societies have matured (or failed) on various planets, their behaviour (see again Cultural Engineering and Genetic Engineering) controlled in what turns out to be a vast series of Thought Experiments conducted over millennia by an ambivalently guilt-ridden Alien species. The Young Adult Soulvine Moore Chronicles as by Anna Kendall, beginning with Crossing Over (2010), are fantasy. Later short fiction is assembled in The Aliens of Earth (coll 1993), Beaker's Dozen (coll 1998), Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories (coll 2008) and Fountain of Age: Stories (coll 2012). Two stories from the last collection won awards: "The Fountain of Age" (July 2007 Asimov's) won a Nebula, and "The Erdmann Nexus" (October-November 2008 Asimov's) won a Hugo. Another Nebula winner, as best novella, was After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall (2012). In Yesterday's Kin (2014), Aliens visit Earth to inform us that a fatal cloud of interstellar particles is due in a year; the tale unpacks its complex implications through the prism of one seemingly dysfunctional (but ultimately momentous) family. This short novel won the Nebula and Locus Award for best novella.

Over a career that has lasted nearly four decades, Kress has traversed much of the territory of the fantastic in literature; she does not seem ready to stop. [JC]

see also: Anthropology; Asimov's Science Fiction; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Nancy Anne Kress

born Buffalo, New York: 20 January 1948



Beggars in Spain

  • Beggars in Spain (Eugene, Oregon: Pulphouse Publishing, 1991) [first appeared April 1991 Asimov's: Beggars in Spain: hb/George Barr]
    • Beggars in Spain (New York: William Morrow/AvoNova, 1993) [exp of the above: Beggars in Spain: hb/Kenneth Jackson]
  • Beggars & Choosers (New York: Tor, 1994) [Beggars in Spain: hb/David Richeid]
  • Beggars Ride (New York: Tor, 1996) [Beggars in Spain: hb/Thomas Canty]

Oaths and Miracles



Soulvine Moor Chronicles

  • Crossing Over (London: Gollancz, 2010) as by Anna Kendall [Soulvine Moor Chronicles: hb/]
  • Dark Mist Rising (London: Gollancz, 2011) as by Anna Kendall [Soulvine Moor Chronicles: hb/Kate Logutova]
  • A Bright and Terrible Sword (London: Indigo, 2012) as by Anna Kendall [Soulvine Moor Chronicles: hb/]


individual titles

collections and stories


works as editor


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