Kathleen Ann Goonan: Designing the Future
Kathleen Ann Goonan was born May 14, 1952 in Cincinnati OH. At age eight she moved to Hawaii for two years while her father worked for the Navy, after which the family moved to Washington DC. She got a degree in English from Virginia Tech in 1975, and earned her Association Montessori International Certification in 1976. She taught school for 13 years, ten of those at Montessori schools, including eight years at a school she founded in Knoxville TN. She spent a year back in Hawaii and took up writing full time before returning to the DC area in 1988, the same year she attended Clarion West. She has taught at Georgia Tech since 2010, where she is a Professor of the Practice.
Goonan’s first story ‘‘Wanting to Talk to You’’ appeared in Asimov’s in 1991. Notable stories include ‘‘Kamehameha’s Bones’’ (1993), Nebula Award nominee ‘‘The String’’ (1995), British SF Award finalist ‘‘Sunflowers’’ (1995), and Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist ‘‘Memory Dog’’ (2008).
Debut novel Queen City Jazz (1994), a New York Times Notable Book, was shortlisted for a British Science Fiction Association Award, and launched her Nanotech Quartet: sequel Mississippi Blues (1997), Nebula Award-nominated prequel Crescent City Rhapsody (2000), and final volume Light Music (2002), also a Nebula Award finalist. Standalone The Bones of Time (1996) was a Clarke Award finalist. Alternate history In War Times (2007) won the Campbell Memorial Award and was the American Library Association’s Best SF Novel of 2007, and was followed by sequel This Shared Dream (2011), a Campbell Memorial Award finalist. Angels and You Dogs, a short story collection, was published by PS Publishing in 20l2.
Goonan and her work have been featured in venues such as Scientific American (‘‘Shamans of the Small’’) and Popular Science (‘‘Science Fiction’s Best Minds Envision the Future’’). As a member of SIGMA, she has given talks for the Joint Services Small Arms Project and the Global Competitiveness Forum in Ryhad. She has published 40 short stories, most recently ‘‘A Love Supreme’’ (Discover Magazine 10/12), ‘‘Bootstrap’’ (Twelve Tomorrows 9/13), ‘‘Sport’’ (ARC 2/14), ‘‘What Are We? Where Do We Come From? Where Are We Going?’’ (Tor.com), ‘‘Girl In Wave; Wave In Girl’’ (Hieroglyph), ‘‘Wilder Still, the Stars’’ (Reach for Infinity), and ‘‘Tomorrowland’’ (Tor.com). She is working on her eighth novel, The Blue Horizon: A Novel of Possibilities and concurrently finishing Hemingway’s Hurricane, a literary novel about the 1935 Labor Day hurricane in the Florida Keys.
Goonan lives in Tennessee and Florida with husband Joseph Mansy, married 1977.
Excerpts from the interview:
‘‘I enjoy teaching tremendously. When I started to write full-time in 1988, giving up teaching was just wrenching. I missed the kids, the parents, and the bustle of my preschool – basically, a world I had created, out of thin air, from just the idea that I could start a school, that eventually grew to include a hundred students.
‘‘I had to be really disciplined when I turned to writing. We had just moved to Hawaii, and so we had no friends. I realized I could take my guitar to preschools and get little fun jobs and meet lots of people, but then I thought, ‘No, I can’t do that if I want to write. I just have to write.’ That’s why I originally got Montessori training and opened my own school, so I could have control of my time to write, until I could support myself by writing. So, ten years later, that’s what I did. I wrote.
‘‘At Georgia Tech, the students’ minds are prepared for science fiction because it’s one of the top engineering schools in the world, so I also taught ‘The Short Story in Science Fiction’ during my first semester there. Since then, I’ve taught the SF Novel, and used Neuromancer, The Female Man, Dawn, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Lathe of Heaven, The Diamond Age, and Zendegi. It was a wild ride, a lot of reading, and very intensive. The students’ enthusiasm regenerated my interest in science fiction – its history, its long-running conversation, its boldness in bringing important issues to life. … This fall I’m putting together a class called Designing the Future. What will the world be like 50 years from now? We’ll start off seeing how people have thought about the distant future in the past, and how those futures were or were not realized, and why. Again, very science fictional.”
‘‘The subject matter of science fiction has changed a lot. In the ’70s and ’80s the biological sciences and psychology were not considered science fiction (though they were good enough for Mary Shelly). Any attempt to study consciousness was considered absurd. The amazing thing is that, because we now have new tools to observe the brain non-invasively with fMRI, we are learning a lot about how the brain works, in real time, in response to different kinds of stimuli. It’s still fuzzy, and not all that precise, but we are getting somewhere. In the United States, Obama has authorized the BRAIN Initiative – Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies.
‘‘I am a born-again science nerd. I have a degree in English, mostly epic Medieval poetry, Virgil, stuff like that. I was fascinated by the middle ages – the religion-driven history, the changes in language and in thought – and I immersed myself in the literature. It would have been a great preparation for writing fantasy, although I wasn’t even goal-oriented enough at that time to consider writing fantasy; I was a poet, and had some successes. But after Clarion West, at Greg Bear’s useful suggestion to a class of writers who wanted to write SF, I started reading more science-oriented books and journals and got hooked. I am pretty much an autodidact, anyway, so I read voraciously and extensively. And heavily, literally. My car is always filled with 50 pounds of books. (My Kindle has been nice. There are reasons I don’t like it, but there are reasons I do like it.) We are living in an age rich with talented scientists who are also good writers. I’d say that books written by scientists – lately, those in the neurosciences – now take up about two-thirds of my library. (Another huge portion is jazz, and another, WWII) I’ve noticed that in Science News, Scientific American, all those science journals and magazines, there are waves of research that they all cover simultaneously, which I find interesting.”
‘‘This Shared Dream is related to In War Times in the sense that the family members, as well as the continuing exploration of how we might bring an end to war, are the same. I planned to do a lot with Bette, Sam Dance’s wife, who was in the OSS. I wanted to really go into her background, because a lot of people who wrote fan letters wanted to know more about her, and about the mysterious Dr. Hadntz. The book begins with a scene from Dr. Hadnz’s childhood, and I wrote several chapters, probably a third of the book, about Betty and Dr. Hadnz, which I had to cut. Contractually, the book was way too long. I should have been paying more attention when I wrote. When it came time to cut, the easiest way to do it without rewriting everything was to take out these chunks of Betty and Hadnz. The novel reads just fine – Ursula K. Le Guin, Connie Willis, and Eileen Gunn contributed blurbs, and Michael Dirda gave it a marvelous, full-page review in the Washington Post Bookworld. I’m the only one that feels the loss, because I’m the only one who knows about it. I have the British rights, and I’m thinking about maybe publishing the complete version in Great Britain. Or perhaps publishing those chapters, with a little bit of reworking, in other venues.
‘‘The novel is also about memory and consciousness. For a long time we had no tools to study the brain, so consciousness was a subject for religion and philosophy. I minored in philosophy because I was so interested in not only the mind, but in what is going on around us – everything. I started from the ground up, I suppose, since gaining the tools to see what is very small or very distant is what moved humanity from religion and philosophy as explanations for phenomena to careful observation – science. Philosophy and religion, disciplines that examine questions like what is free will, what is life, what is really going on? They fascinate me. That is why my own interests turned from pre-science philosophy and religion to science.
‘‘What we think of as ‘reality’ is the brain putting together an idea of what’s happening around us, and we base our behavior on that interpretation. We live in a shared reality. That’s what the title, This Shared Dream, means to me. What we think of as the familial past is actually a lot of different people’s versions of the past. Every child in a family has a different idea family history, depending on their birth order, because their very presence changes family dynamics. That’s another thing I wanted to explore, because it echoes the concept that consciousness has much to do with how we perceive time.”
‘‘I plan to write about what it meant to be human before and after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, and explore how Darwin’s ideas changed what people thought, how they felt, and how these changes were reflected in art and in the lives of those who considered themselves intellectuals, and how it impacted those who were not at all involved in the worlds of art or science. Once we had photography we didn’t need to paint perfect replicas of landscapes or people in order to remember them, but could instead use paintings non-representationally, intellectually, or abstractly. I’m interested in the intellectual currents of that age and of our present age: what are the links between what was going on science in art and society back then and what is happening now?
‘‘I think I’m finished with my recent spate of short stories – mostly, novelettes – now. I want to get to work on that novel and also a novel that is historical, about the 1930s, and not SF. It’s called Hemingway’s Hurricane and it takes place in the Florida Keys. It’s about unions, the depression, veterans, and jazz, of course.’’