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C A T H E R I N E   A S A R O : Dancing Equations
(excerpted from Locus Magazine, November 1999)

Catherine Asaro
    Photo by Beth Gwinn

Catherine Asaro was born sometime in the late '50s (she wouldn't reveal just when) in Oakland, California. She received a B.S. in theoretical chemical physics at UCLA in 1978, and went on to Harvard, where she got an M.A. in physics in 1983, and a Ph.D in chemical physics in 1985. In 1987, she started teaching physics at Kenyon College. She left in 1990 to establish Molecudyne Research and spend most of her time as a freelance SF novelist. Her first professional sale appears to be the novelette ''Dance in Blue'' for anthology Christmas Forever (1993), edited by David Hartwell. She also edited and published her own fanzine, Mindsparks, in the early '90s. Tor published her first novel, Primary Inversion, in 1995, introducing the ''Skolian Empire'' saga which continued in Catch the Lightning (1996) winner of the 1997 Sapphire Award for best SF romance and the UTC Award, Nebula nominee The Last Hawk (1997), and The Radiant Seas (1998). Her new book is The Veiled Web, a non-series thriller, and the next will be Ascendant Sun, in the ''Skolian Empire'' series. Her novella ''Aurora in Four Voices'' (Analog 12/98) was both a Hugo and Nebula nominee.

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Asaro is married to NASA astrophysicist John Kendall Cannizzo, and they have one daughter, Cathy. They live in Maryland.

''I grew up submerged in science, because my dad was a scientist at the Lawrence Radiation Lab in Berkeley. He's the one who found the iridium anomalies in the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary. Luis Alvarez, Walter Alvarez, my dad Frank Asaro, and Helen Michel all helped to postulate that either an asteroid or a comet hit the earth and killed off everything. They didn't expect to find it. (My dad didn't expect to find iridium at all.) It was neat growing up around them.

''I started reading science fiction when I was six. As soon as I found it, realized it was out there, I just fell in love with it. I thought, 'This is fun!' When I was six, I was reading Space Cat, things like that, but by the time I was eight or nine, I'd gone through everything in the children's section Heinlein, Asimov, Andre Norton. Hal Clement is a great one. Later, Michael Moorcock was another one I really liked. Mostly I'd read anything I could find. When I was eight or nine, my parents got me a library card to the adult section. Every author from the Golden Age, I read at least one of their books. I'd read five to ten books in a weekend both fantasy and science fiction.

''I actually started out to be a ballet dancer. Every year the Royal Academy of Dance sends an examiner over from London and they test you very intimidating for a little girl. But I passed all the early grades, and took the first professional-level exam when I was 15 and passed that. I could have gone to London and studied with the Royal Academy, but by the time I graduated high school, I knew I was interested in more than being a ballet dancer, so I went to UCLA instead.

''I started seriously writing in graduate school. The Last Hawk was the first book I wrote. I didn't know anybody in science fiction then, so it was written completely in a vacuum. But when I was applying for jobs, I was offered a position at Kenyon College, where Joan Slonczewski is. Eventually I went there, and Joan and I became friends. She read the first draft of The Last Hawk, and recommended me to David Hartwell. He liked the book, but it was actually the third one Tor ended up publishing first.

''It didn't occur to me that I was writing hard science fiction. Especially in Primary Inversion and Catch the Lightning, there's a lot of exposition about relativistic physics and molecular genetics, because my background is in atomic and molecular physics and chemical physics. But Catch the Lightning, which has some of the most scientific exposition of all my books, won a romance award the Sapphire Award for best science fiction romance of 1997. I would get letters from romance readers that basically said, 'Thank you for not insulting our intelligence. Thank you for giving us the real stuff, and with a good romance.' And I got mail from hard SF readers saying, 'Thank you for giving us good characters with the hard science.' I don't think the genres break down as much along lines as people think. But every now and then I do get someone who says, 'What's this love story? Get rid of this.'

''My second book, Catch the Lightning, crossed over even more. The amount of romance varies from book to book, but I'm happy to have that crossover. I don't play to it, though. I actually held back at first, because a part of me wondered how much of a love story I should involve in a science fiction book. But I found out my fans really enjoyed it.

''I have many more 'Skolian' books in the works. It's not a standard series, in the sense that very few of the books are actually sequels. But what I do is tell the story of the different members of the Ruby family, so the books are all interconnected. It's like a big jigsaw puzzle. Each piece is in itself its own picture, its own story, and most of them stand alone, but when you put them all together you get a big overall story, which is the one I'm telling.

''My new book, The Veiled Web, is a near-future suspense novel about the development of artificial intelligence, and a conspiracy that concerns the World Wide Web. It's also romantic most everything I write is! Most of it takes place in Morocco, just a few years in our future, so it has no connection at all to the Skolian Empire series. But in a way, being a science fiction writer helped me to write about another culture, because in science fiction we're always saying, 'Let's think beyond our own way of life.'

''Bantam will be publishing The Phoenix Code, another of my near-future books, probably next year. It's not connected to the first one. The first one deals with just the development of artificial intelligence in terms of software. The second one deals with both the artificial intelligence and the robotics to go with it. That will probably be a suspense novel too.

''At the moment, I've pretty much filled up all my time with the writing. In 1998, I sold six books, and I need to write them. It's three Tor books. The Quantum Road, one of the Tor books, is also being serialized in Analog in a slightly different form. It's fun for me, so it's not like I'm doing work; I'm just doing stuff I like to do.''

© 1999 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.