CAREER: Writer and educator. University of Nevada, Reno, associate professor of English.
AWARDS, HONORS: Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Novel, International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, for Flying in Place; World Fantasy Award finalist, 1997, for novella “GI Jesus”; “Best Books of 2005” citation, Library Journal, Alex Award, American Library Association, and Silver Pen Award, Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, all for The Necessary Beggar; ten best science fiction novels of 2007 citation, Amazon.com, 2007, and Best of the Year citation, Library Journal, both for Shelter.
FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION
Flying in Place, Tor (New York, NY), 1992, reissued, 2005.
The Necessary Beggar, Tor (New York, NY), 2005.
Shelter, Tor (New York, NY), 2007.
The Fate of Mice (stories; includes “GI Jesus.”), Ta-chyon Publications (San Francisco, CA), 2007.
Contributor of short stories and creative nonfiction to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and the Texas Review. The author’s work has been translated into Japanese.
SIDELIGHTS: Susan Palwick is an English professor and the author of fantasy fiction and science fiction. Writing on her Web page posting at the University of Nevada, Reno Web site, Palwick called her short stories mostly “contemporary retellings of fairy tales.” Her longer fiction works, however, have garnered the most critical acclaim. Indeed, both of her first two novels have been recognized with awards.
Flying in Place tells the story of twelve-year-old Emma Gray. Emma is sexually abused by her father, a respected doctor, on an almost nightly basis. The assaults occur late at night while her oblivious mother, an English teacher, is sleeping. Emma’s only means of protection and escape are her imaginary adventures with her long-dead sister, Ginny. In Emma’s whimsies the girls go flying together and engage in other fantastical exploits. Reviewers of the novel predominantly remarked upon Palwick’s delicate handling of a difficult topic. The “chilling and finely tuned” story “avoids pat solutions,” noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. Harriet Klausner, writing in the Baryon Online magazine, noted that Palwick’s characters are intentionally made flat in order to bring Emma’s fantasy scenes into clearer focus. Klausner felt, however, that this results in a story that is “black and white with no gray.” Nevertheless, Klausner called the book “thought provoking” and noted that the story “grips the reader.”
Palwick’s second novel, The Necessary Beggar, was released thirteen years after the initial publication of Flying in Place. The story is more overtly recognizable as science fiction. In the utopian city of Lemabantunk, located in the world of Gandiffri, a young man named Darroti falls in love with a woman serving as a holy beggar. When she is killed Darroti is wrongly accused, and subsequently convicted, of the crime. His punishment is that of banishment, and since his family refuses to part from him, they are all exiled to planet Earth, specifically to Reno, Nevada. When the family arrives through a portal at a refugee camp, they are forced to adjust from the utopian society they once knew to their decidedly more violent and chaotic new home. The book was praised widely by critics, especially as a subtle comment on the travails of immigrants. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book a “heart-wrenching… tragicomedy of cultural differences.” Moreover, Booklist contributor Paula Luedtke concluded: “Pal-wick’s beautifully crafted tale of exiles struggling to come to terms with a deeply troubled Earth is exquisite.”
In Shelter, her third novel, Palwick mixes elements of science fiction and science fact in a story set in San Francisco in the near future. Environmental changes have caused dangerous worldwide storms, and an epidemic known as CV stalks through the population. In particular, CV strikes at two young girls—Roberta Danton and Meredith Walford—and their families. Although Roberta and Meredith both survive their attacks of CV, their families do not. While Roberta loses both her parents, Meredith (whose father Preston was a multibillionaire) does not. Preston Walford manages to have his personality transferred to the Internet, becoming a kind of electronic ghost. Skipping forward a few decades, Meredith has become a wealthy heiress, struggling to save her adopted son Nicholas from being “brainwiped”—having his memories completely and totally erased. Roberta becomes Nicholas’s teacher, and she, just as much as Meredith, is driven to try to save Nicholas from the authorities. “The fact that Nicholas is also a CV survivor allows the women to identify with him,” declared Richard Larson in Strange Horizons, “and thus try desperately to shelter him—to keep him from those who wish to brainwipe him—in an effort to provide the shelter that was not afforded them in their own times of need.” The situation is complicated on one stormy night, when Meredith’s house (governed by an artificial intelligence called Fred) opens the door to a homeless man named Henry, also a victim of brainwiping. “Palwick’s characters resonate with believability,” said Library Journal contributor Jackie Cassada, “and her portrayals of minds on the edge of sanity are unforgettable.” Her “haunting, often heart-wrenching, sf-tinged story,” Regina Schroeder wrote in Booklist, “presents the terrible things people will do for love, and those terrible things’ consequences.” “Palwick,” Larson stated, “has built a rich and complex possible future, complete with political and religious systems, rapid and extraordinary technological advancement, and all the moral polarization that naturally follows such developments.”
“The intelligent, literate stories in The Fate of Mice,” declared Victoria Strauss in a review for the SF Site, “… showcase Susan Palwick’s range and versatility, moving easily from science fiction to fantasy, from fabulism to realism, from humor to tragedy—sometimes in the space of a single story.” “The fine title story about an IQ-enhanced mouse named Rodney,” a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote, “recalls ‘Flowers for Algernon,’” Daniel Keyes’s Nebula Award-winning novel about a mentally challenged man who comes to realize that the process that has given him a genius-level intellect is only temporary. Other stories tell about a female werewolf whose marriage to a human is doomed because she ages seven years for every year he ages; a boy whose search for his lost cat is complicated by the fact that both of them are microchipped; and a politician who takes advantage of a process that makes corpses speak to drum up their support for his pro-war campaign. “A different kind of alternate life is examined in ‘Jo’s Hair,’” Strauss explained, “which imagines an answer to a question few readers of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women may have thought to ask: what happened to the hair Jo March cut off and sold when her father fell ill?” “All eleven pieces explore conundrums of human existence,” stated Carl Hays in Booklist, “from the perennial pursuit of utopia to the many faces of mortality.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 1, 2005, Paula Luedtke, review of The Necessary Beggar, p. 43; March 15, 2007, Carl Hays, review of The Fate of Mice, p. 33; May 15, 2007, Regina Schroeder, review of Shelter, p. 38.
Book World, July 22, 2007, Jeff VanderMeer, review of Shelter, p. 11.
California Bookwatch, May, 2007, review of The Fate of Mice.
Library Journal, October 15, 2005, Jackie Cassada, review of The Necessary Beggar, p. 51; June 15, 2007, Jackie Cassada, review of Shelter, p. 61.
Publishers Weekly, March 23, 1992, review of Flying in Place, p. 62; August 29, 2005, review of The Necessary Beggar, p. 38; January 22, 2007, review of The Fate of Mice, p. 167; March 26, 2007, review of Shelter, p. 70.
Baryon Online,http://www.baryon-online.com/ (January 28, 2007), Harriet Klausner, review of Flying in Place.
Rickety Contrivances of Doing Good,http://www.improbableoptimisms.blogspot.com (June 12, 2008), Susan Palwick author blog.
Romantic Times Book Club Online,http://www.romantictimes.com/ (January 28, 2007), Jen Talley Exum, review of The Necessary Beggar.
SF Reviews,http://www.sfreviews.net/ (January 28, 2007), T.M. Wagner, review of The Necessary Beggar.
SF Site,http://www.sfsite.com/ (January 28, 2008), Victoria Strauss, review of The Fate of Mice.
Strange Horizons,http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (January 28, 2008), Richard Larson, review of Shelter.
University of Nevada, Reno Web site, http://www.unr.edu/ (January 28, 2007), author information and statement.