McHugh, Maureen F.

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McHugh, Maureen F.


Born February 13, 1959, in OH; daughter of Martin and Evelyn L. (Likliter) McHugh; married Bob Yeager, 1992. Education: Ohio University, B.A., 1981; New York University, M.A., 1984.


Home—Twinsburg, OH. Agent—Kathy Saideman, Sanda Dijkstra Literary Agency, 1237 Camino del Mar, Suite 515C, Del Mar, CA 92014.


College of Staten Island of the City University of New York, Staten Island, administrator and teacher, 1985-86; Hebei Teacher's College, Shijiazhuang, China, teacher, 1990; temporary work as recruiter for a department store chain and clerk for a defense contractor; Ethicon, Cincinnati, OH, technical writer, 1991. Cincinnati Writers Project, workshop instructor.


Science Fiction Writers of America.

Awards, Honors

Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Science Fiction and Fantasy, James Tiptree Jr. Award, New York Times notable book citation, Hugo Award nomination, World Science Fiction Society, and Nebula Award nomination, all 1993, for China Mountain Zhang; Hugo Award for short story, 1996, for "The Lincoln Train"; Hugo Award nomination for best novelette, 2003, for "Presence."


China Mountain Zhang, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Half the Day Is Night, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Mission Child, Avon (New York, NY), 1998.

Nekropolis, EOS (New York, NY), 2001.

Author of novelette "Presence." Contributor to anthologies, including Starlight 1; contributor of stories to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Tales of the Unanticipated, and


Maureen F. McHugh is a science fiction writer whose books emphasize the relationships between her characters and the timeless longing for self-determination and authentic connection to others.

"McHugh writes science fiction from the inside out, with the focus on character.... After awhile the reader forgets the extraterrestrial setting and the fairy-tale devices," observed Gerald Jonas in the New York Times Book Review. McHugh's career had its auspicious beginning with the award-winning China Mountain Zhang, a novel noted for its "astonishingly realistic portrayal of a future China," to quote Carl Hays in Booklist. Since then the Ohio-based author has established a reputation for "using exotic settings as backdrops for stories of self-discovery and personal courage," as Jackie Cassada observed in Library Journal.

McHugh writes of outsiders who live in future societies that are falling apart. John R. Alden, writing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, stated that "McHugh writes about outsiders and survivors in worlds where surviving as an outsider is terribly hard." Her fiction, Janice M. Bogstad wrote in the St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, "is characterized by decadent and degenerating societies whose politics and technological infrastructures aren't adequate to maintain their populations in healthy and secure environments. Her characters are often social dissidents, misfits or members of an 'underclass' who, for one reason or another, have maintained shreds of human dignity and compassion. They are the quiet, everyday heroes we recognize from our own lives." Speaking of the characters found in McHugh's writings, Pat Stansberry of the Strange Horizons Web Site explained that "McHugh often delves into the world of the outsider, from society, from politics, even gender." Bogstad concluded: "It is never a pretty place to live, the future that Ms. McHugh paints, but it is so very hauntingly familiar, as if just around the next corner, both in terms of time and of geography."

Writing from an Early Age

McHugh first began creating illustrated stories in the fifth grade, when she discovered the works of science fiction writer Andre Norton. Norton's stories were "about people who thought they were ugly ducklings [but] who had mutant powers," McHugh explained to Stansberry. "I just loved those books and I did a series of post-apocalyptic drawings of a girl who could communicate with animals, and they are long gone, thank goodness. There was, I'm sure, an implied narrative. In my head she was going through a series of adventures." McHugh moved on to written stories soon after. "My best friend for years," she related to Stansberry, "was forever writing novels that never got very far, so we were writing novels together. She was writing one and I was writing another one and it was a really, really bad space opera."

"We didn't have a library, just a bookmobile, and I remember sitting on the floor looking at books," McHugh told the Event Horizon Web Site. "When I was around ten, the Methodist Church let the county library system use their basement—which made going to the library a double thrill, not only for the books but for the vague thrill of being a Catholic girl in the basement of another church." After finishing high school, McHugh went on to get her bachelor's degree at Ohio University, then went on to earn a master's degree from New York University.

"I always felt that to write required experience," McHugh once commented, "so I moved to New York City when I was twenty-three; I thought I'd get experience there whether I wanted it or not. In fact, I thought that, in order to write, the experience ought to be a little uncomfortable. It ought to make me re-examine things. This eventually led me to the People's Republic of China, where I lived for a year as a teacher at Hebei Teacher's College. Along the way, I began to use writing as a way to figure things out. The things I needed to figure out were clear and straightforward at first. What would it be like to have been born as an average person in a third world country? What would it be like to live surrounded by violence? Now the questions are ones everybody has to address. Why are some people singled out for privilege, and why are some people unlucky? It's not as if I really expect answers, but I grew up believing that there was causality, that the events around me had some sort of narrative flow. I was a bookish child, and my view of the world was that events made a certain narrative sense."

Her First Novel

McHugh's first novel, China Mountain Zhang, features a homosexual protagonist who is encouraged to marry a girl so that they can leave their oppressive society. "The novel," Bogstad explained, "postulates a 21st century where China and Chinese culture have gained ascendancy in the planet earth and racism has become institutionalized. The civilization has found ways to harvest from the South Pole, live underneath the ocean to use its many resources and has begun to colonize close planets, such as Mars." In this future society, Zhang "is a gay, half-Chinese, half-Hispanic man whose parents had him genetically altered so he would appear Chinese, and thus have a better chance of surviving in a racist society. . . . He tells the story of how he outwitted the 'system' and got the training necessary to become an architect despite the drawbacks of his race, class, and sexual orientation. This alone would be a fascinating story, but it is given depth by the stories of others, such as Martine, Alexi, and Theresa who live in Jerusalem Ridge on Mars, and San-xiang, a Chinese girl with a serious facial disfigurement. Each battles with standardized cruelties of societies which do not quite have a place for them." A Publishers Weekly critic described the novel as "one of the most highly praised SF debuts in years." China Mountain Zhang won McHugh a host of awards, including the James Tiptree Jr. Award and Hugo and Nebula Award nominations.

In McHugh's second novel, Half the Day Is Night, David and Mayla seek escape from an underwater city named Caribe in which terrorists thrive and police are suspicious of the innocent. "Much more a social than an interpersonal portrait," Bogstad believed, "this second novel concerns greed, economic manipulation and the often cataclysmic uncertainties of modern life as a normal member of society. As with other McHugh fiction, one does not leave this novel with a sense that safe havens are available but rather that only individual acts of human heroism make life bearable." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly deemed McHugh "one of the most promising new voices in the field" and an author able to evoke "a believable sense of life in the future." Carl Hays in Booklist praised McHugh's "skill in providing dimension to both her characters and their surroundings."

Mission Child's heroine, teenaged Janna, has been raised and educated by Earth missionaries on an undeveloped alien world. Her boyfriend is killed when war breaks out, and Janna must disguise herself as a boy to hide from the enemy. Jackie Cassada of Library Journal called Mission's Child "a moody, somber novel of self-discovery that also serves as a cautionary tale," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer found it to be an "intelligent, carefully wrought novel of a world that is familiar yet very alien." Roberta Johnson in Booklist likewise commended Mission Child as an "astonishing, compulsively readable novel" with an "unforgettable protagonist."

Nekropolis is set in twenty-second century Morocco, where the poor live in the crumbling mausoleums of a cemetery, the Nekropolis, and the wealthy spend their days lost in high-tech entertainment, including virtual-reality soap operas in which they can participate. Hariba, a genetically altered girl, works as a bonded servant for a prominent family. In this religiously strict society still ruled by the Koran, she falls in love with Akhmim, an artificially created person she believes is a real human being, and they run away together to live in the Nekropolis. As Regina Schroeder noted in Booklist, "this is no mere love story but a consideration of the conflicts between old rules and new technology and between attitudes of freedom and slavery." "McHugh's Morocco, with its intensely symbolic Nekropolis, is very real," admitted a critic for Publishers Weekly, "but ultimately it is Hariba, Akhmim and their heartbreaking, impossible relationship that the reader will remember." By book's end, it is still unclear just how this relationship will turn out. Hariba's "life is left unresolved," McHugh explained to Publishers Weekly, "but all our lives are left unresolved."

If you enjoy the works of Maureen F. McHugh

If you enjoy the works of Maureen F. McHugh, you might want to check out the following books:

Carol Berg, Transformation, 2000.

Ursula Le Guin, The Other Wind, 2001.

China Mieville, Perdidi Street Station, 2003.

Sheri S. Tepper, The Visitor, 2002.

When asked by Stansberry what she likes about her own writing, McHugh revealed: "I think there are real nice moments in it. There are times I knew stuff that I'm really surprised that I knew. Insights into humanity.... I find them in the process of writing. I come to something and I say, 'Oh I know,' and I write that. At the beginning of the first section of Nekropolis, the first line from the mother is, 'All of my children are taller than I am.' I like that moment because it suggests a certain kind of pride. I have physically done well by my children, I have made sure they had enough to eat, that they grew strong. I liked finding that in her. It feels to me to ring true to an experience different from mine."

Biographical and Critical Sources


St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995, pp. 641-643.


Analog Science Fiction and Fact, July, 1992, Tom Easton, review of China Mountain Zhang, p. 309; May, 1999, Tom Easton, review of Mission Child, p. 132.

Booklist, March 15, 1992, Roland Green, review of China Mountain Zhang, p. 1344; October 15, 1994, Carl Hays, review of Half the Day Is Night, p. 405; November 1, 1998, Roberta Johnson, review of Mission Child, p. 478; August, 2001, Regina Schroeder, review of Nekropolis, p. 102.

Far Eastern Economic Review, January 14, 1993, Eleanor Schwatrz, "China to Mars," p. 37.

Lambda Book Report, May-June, 1992, Eric Garber, review of China Mountain Zhang, p. 30.

Library Journal, September 15, 1994, Jackie Cassada, review of Half the Day Is Night, p. 94; November 15, 1998, Jackie Cassada, review of Mission Child, p. 94; May 15, 1999, review of Mission Child, p. 160; September 15, 2001, Jackie Cassada, review of Nekropolis, p. 116.

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March, 1993, John Kessel, review of China Mountain Zhang, p. 47; February, 1995, Robert K. J. Killheffer, review of Half the Day Is Night, p. 19; March, 1995, John Kessel, review of Half the Day Is Night, p. 25; December, 2001, Michelle West, review of Nekropolis, p. 36.

New York Times Book Review, November 15, 1998, Gerald Jonas, review of Mission Child, p. 64; October 7, 2001, Gerald Jonas, review of Nekropolis, p. 19.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), October 7, 2001, John R. Alden, review of Nekropolis, p. J12.

Publishers Weekly, October 3, 1994, review of Half the Day Is Night, p. 55; October 26, 1998, review of Mission Child, p. 48; July 30, 2001, review of Nekropolis, p. 66; Sandra Lindow, "PW Talks with Maureen F. McHugh," p. 67.


Booksense, (April 2, 2002).

Event Horizon Web Site, (December 11, 2003), "Maureen F. McHugh: Family Matters."

Locus Online Web Site, (October, 1999), "Maureen F. McHugh: Family Matters."

Maureen F. McHugh Home Page, (April 2, 2002).

Strange Horizons Web Site, (September 9, 2002), Pat Stansberry, "Interview: Maureen F. McHugh."*