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Vinge, Joan D

Entry updated 3 March 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1948-    ) US author, with a degree in anthropology from San Diego State University; she has been married twice, to Vernor Vinge 1972-1979 and to Jim Frenkel from 1980. She began publishing sf with Tin Soldier (in Orbit 14, anth 1974, ed Damon Knight; 1990 chap dos), whose theme (like much of her later work) is taken from fairy tale or Mythology and rewritten in sf terms, the source in this case being a story by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875). Before she began to publish novels, Vinge had considerable success with her short fiction, some of which deals with Communication between humans and Aliens, including the title story of The Crystal Ship: Three Original Novellas of Science Fiction (anth 1976) edited by Robert Silverberg. Early work was collected in Fireship (coll 1978; vt Fireship; and Mother and Child) and Eyes of Amber and Other Stories (coll 1979); the title story of the latter, "Eyes of Amber" (June 1977 Analog), another good communications tale, won a Hugo for Best Novelette. A further collection of six stories was Phoenix in the Ashes (coll 1985).

Vinge's first novel, The Outcasts of Heaven Belt (February-April 1978 Analog; 1978), pits an egalitarian society with strong women against male-dominated, collapsing societies in an Asteroid belt; its title homages Bret Harte, whose isolated California towns often feature sympathetic portraits of strong women. The novel belongs to the Heaven Belt series of stories, and was later assembled with a novella from the series, "Legacy" (in Binary Star No 4, anth 1980, ed James Frenkel), as Heaven Chronicles (omni 1991). More impetuous is the Cat series, begun with Psion (1982; exp as coll 2007) and continued with Catspaw (1988), the two collected as Alien Blood (omni 1988); a further volume is Dreamfall (1996). Psion, which unlike its successor was published as a Young Adult tale, is actually a development, years later, of the first long fiction Vinge wrote as a teenager. Cat, an orphan (half human, half Hydran, a race despised by humans) with catlike eyes and Psi Powers, has full-blooded, melodramatic, Space-Opera adventures. None of these books remotely approach the scope and power of her second novel, which remains her finest work to date.

The Snow Queen (1980; rev 1989) won a 1981 Hugo. Though the title and some of the plot again come from Hans Christian Andersen, this is an essay in Anthropology, much of it founded in the pseudoscientific mythopoetic explorations of Robert Graves as expounded in The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (1948), which Brian M Stableford argued in a review "is rather like a chemistry graduate writing a story whose plot hinges on the phlogiston theory". The broad romantic sweep of the tale, however, carried most doubters with it (just as Graves's work has remained a central source for romantic alternative takes on the submerged origins of our secular world). A primitive planet with a long year (see Great Year) is supported by off-world Technology (brought in by transmission via Black Hole) in its long winter, at the end of which the Winter Queen will be supplanted by the Summer Queen, and the offworlders will leave. The Winter Queen plots to renew her reign (via cloning) in summer. The fact that this novel's power as a Planetary Romance rested more in generic dexterity (much of it taken from Heroic Fantasy) than in conceptual strength may help explain why, after such a strong beginning, Vinge has not, despite expectations to the contrary, been reckoned one of the major sf writers of the 1980s. The other books in the Snow Queen series are World's End (1984); The Summer Queen (1991), an extremely extended direct sequel to The Snow Queen in the form of a family romance; and Tangled Up in Blue (2000), set at the time of the original novel and featuring a crime investigation told in noir terms.

Much of the rest of Vinge's output from the mid-1980s comprises film Ties, starting with the juvenile Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: The Storybook Based on the Movie (1983 chap) and including: Tarzan, King of the Apes (1983); The Dune Storybook (1984 chap), juvenile; Return to Oz: A Novel (1985); Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985); Ladyhawke (1985); Santa Claus, the Movie: A Novel (1985); Santa Claus: The Movie Storybook (1985 chap), juvenile; Willow (1988); Lost in Space (1998); and Cowboys & Aliens (2011), novelizing Cowboys & Aliens (2011), a Western set in the nineteenth century in a town invaded by Aliens.

In an interview Vinge has said that the first sf she grew to love was by Andre Norton; it may be as a colourful exponent of the tradition of the Planetary Romance, to which Norton belonged (and which she did much to establish in its mature, template form) – in which mythic themes are patterned into a world that is only superficially science-fictional – that Vinge will be best remembered. [PN/JC]

see also: Astounding Science-Fiction; Upload.

Joan Carol Dennison Vinge Frenkel

born Baltimore, Maryland: 2 April 1948



Heaven Belt

  • The Outcasts of Heaven Belt (New York: New American Library/Signet Books, 1978) [first appeared February-April 1978 Analog: Heaven Belt: pb/Vincent Di Fate]
    • Heaven Chronicles (New York: Warner Books/Questar, 1991) [exp of the above as coll, with "Legacy", which first appeared in Binary Star No 4 (anth 1980) edited by James Frenkel: pb/Donald Clavette]

Snow Queen


  • Psion (New York: Delacorte Press, 1982) [Cat: hb/Diane and Leo Dillon]
    • Psion (New York: Tor, 2007) [exp of above title as coll: with added story "Psiren" from New Voices 4: The John W. Campbell Award Nominees (anth 1981) edited by George R R Martin: Cat: pb/Romas Kukalis as Romas]
  • Catspaw (New York: Warner Books, 1988) [Cat: hb/Michael Whelan]
  • Dreamfall (New York: Warner Books/Aspect, 1996) [Cat: hb/Michael Whelan]

individual titles

collections and stories

about the author


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