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Murphy, Pat

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1955-    ) Working name of US author Patrice Ann Murphy (1955-    ), who began publishing work of genre interest with "No Mother Near" in Galaxy for October 1975, though the first story she wishes to acknowledge was "Nightbird at the Window" in Chrysalis 5 (anth 1979) edited by Roy Torgeson. Her first novel was the obscurely published The Shadow Hunter (1982; rev 2002), in which a Stone-Age man is displaced by a Time-Travel device into a cruelly alienating future. The theme of displacement, whether through time or across the gulf of species, significantly shapes Murphy's two most famous works. Rachel in Love (April 1987 Asimov's; 1992 chap), which won a Nebula and a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, has as its viewpoint character a female chimpanzee with enhanced Intelligence (see also Apes as Human; Zoo) who escapes an impersonally horrific research institute. Nothing in the tale, with the exception of Rachel's cognitively enhanced responses, is in any sense sf, or even unlikely. The Falling Woman (1986), which won Murphy another Nebula in the same year, concentrates upon a contemporary woman archaeologist who is capable of perceiving, through palimpsests of midden and artefact, figures from the period being investigated at a dig in Mexico, and who can observe – through her ability to act as an organic Time Viewer – their ghostlike maintenance of their ancient daily endeavours. A triangle of implications develops intriguingly between one of the Mayans, who speaks to the protagonist, and her estranged daughter, and climaxes in a kind of healing transtemporal embrace (see Transcendence).

After editing and producing environmental reports and graphics for various Pacific Coast organizations, Murphy began in 1982 to edit the Exploratorium Quarterly, the journal of the Exploratorium, a San Francisco museum designed to promote a hands-on relationship between human perception and the arts and sciences. Elements of her next novel, The City, Not Long After (in Universe 14, anth 1984, ed Terry Carr, as "Art in the War Zone"; much exp 1989), clearly extrapolate some of the Exploratorium agenda. Set after a Pandemic, focusing on its effect upon a physically intact San Francisco (see California; Disaster), the tale presents its protagonists' capacity to make Art analogous to the shaping of a new reality out of the Ruined Earth. If there is a slight air of local patriotism in the book's apotheosis of San Francisco, and a touch of Paranoia in its depiction of the threat posed by a military force bent on transforming the remnants of America into a police state, it is at the same time perhaps something of a relief to participate in a vision of the future not bound by Cyberpunk shibboleths. Murphy, like Kim Stanley Robinson, had been described in the course of the 1980s as a Humanist writer, a formulation which opposed Cyberpunk to Humanism, generally to the discredit of the latter; like Robinson, she resisted the labelling, which she clearly found procrustean. Her stories have been assembled as Points of Departure (coll 1990), which won a Philip K Dick Award. Contributions to Letters from Home (anth 1991) with Pat Cadigan and Karen Joy Fowler – each author contributing solo tales to the volume – are all taken from Points of Departure.

Nadya: The Wolf Chronicles (1996) is a werewolf fantasy; and Murphy's gradual disengagement from sf becomes even more apparent in the Max Merriwell sequence of Parodies comprising There and Back Again by Max Merriwell (1999), which takes off from J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit; Or, There and Back Again (1937) – though transposing its treasure-hunt into a solidly sf context of Clones and interstellar WormholesWild Angel by Mary Merriwell: by Max Merriwell (2000), which takes off from Edgar Rice Burroughs and others, and Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell (2001), whose targets are addressed, refreshingly, almost at random, though there is an underlying sense that Murphy is taking off here from an author like Luigi Pirandello, whose Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) may subtend Adventures in Time and Space, though the title might be rewritten as Six Authors in Search of the World: A Tontine: with the last fictional author alive (several versions of Merriwell/Murphy jostle for lebensraum in the tale) assuming the cloak of reality. Though the sequence moves from sf, it is, all the same, irradiated with sf tropes and sensibility, and marks an interesting stage in Murphy's career. [JC]

see also: Fantasy; Interzone; Seiun Award.

Patrice Ann Murphy

born Washington (state): 9 March 1955



Max Merriwell

individual titles

collections and stories

works as editor


James Tiptree Award Anthologies

individual titles

  • Letters from Home (London: The Women's Press, 1991) with Pat Cadigan and Karen Joy Fowler [anth: each contributor selecting her own contributions: pb/Elaine Kowlsky]


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