McIntyre, Vonda N.

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McINTYRE, Vonda N.

Born 28 August 1948, Louisville, Kentucky

Daughter of H. Neel and Vonda B. Keith McIntyre

Vonda N. McIntyre is a respected science fiction author. At the University of Washington, she earned a degree in biology in 1970, followed by graduate work in genetics. Besides writing, she is a conference organizer and a riding and writing instructor.

Her scientific interests influence her fiction, which showcases genetic manipulation or bodily transformations of various kinds. She is renowned for the ingenious plausibility of her fictional aliens and mutants. These characters embody the theme of the Outsider in society to great emotional effect. McIntyre emphasizes the related theme of building the bridge to friendship and the many faltering steps and missteps across that bridge. Relationships between "normal" people and Others in her works are profoundly felt and portrayed. Her fiction features strong female characters, who nearly always live in an egalitarian future society.

Her first story, "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand" (1973), won the Nebula award, bestowed by the Science Fiction Writers of America. She expanded the tale into Dreamsnake (1978), which won the World Science Fiction Association's Hugo award. The story concerns the travels of a healer who breeds genetically altered snakes for medicinal purposes.

McIntyre's novel The Exile Waiting (1975), a Nebula nominee, chronicles a mutant orphan teenager's survival on postapocalyptic Earth and her gradual alliance with other underground mutants and the interplanetary raiders who invade to take over the last remaining terrestrial city. The protagonists eventually escape the wreckage of Earth, but first they must each confront and resolve their inner problems, which are less easy to escape.

Fireflood and Other Stories (1979) depicts a future in which humanity has departed a similarly ruined Earth, leaving behind a few "worthless" unfortunates. These wretches have been altered into inhuman shapes—cyborgized or transformed into winged creatures—and are imprisoned on reservations or perform meaningless work: drilling pits, digging tunnels. In "The End's Beginning," a dolphin describes a forced undeviating swim across the ocean to deliver an implanted bomb. In "Spectra," slaves' eyes have been replaced with plug-in sockets to manipulate electronic data. These lonely characters wish only for a chance at the pursuit of happiness and a life of dignity. The stories are linked by the thematic importance of friendship and trust in an intolerable world.

The most famous tale in the collection, Hugo-nominated "Aztecs," was expanded into the 1984 novel Superluminal. It tells the tragic love story of Laenea, a pilot, and Radu, the crewman who has loved her since she saved him from a plague on another planet. As though McIntyre felt dissatisfied with the bitter ending, she continues their adventures so they may escape the separation forced upon pilots and crew. New to the galaxy-spanning tale is Orca, a "diver," who has voluntarily undergone anatomical alteration in order to live underwater and befriend cetaceans. Radu turns out to be a mutant, too: the only spaceman who has ever dreamed during the drugged sleep of transit, on a critical voyage he actually wakes up during the flight. The scientists want to study this unique ability, but he escapes medical imprisonment to follow and rescue Laenea, who is also unique in that she has found how to pilot her spaceship into the seventh dimension—and return. The three young protagonists, all moody and headstrong, forge a strange but intense friendship.

In Barbary (1986), twelve-year-old Barbary goes to live on a space station with a foster family, but illegally smuggles onboard her beloved cat, Mickey. Raised in the school of hard knocks, Barbary initially distrusts her kind new father and sister. Heather, who teaches Barbary to live in zero gravity, learns in return the importance of responsibility when she finds the cat and promises to help care for him. Unfortunately, the authorities also discover Mickey, but when an alien spaceship appears, Barbary and Mickey save the day in a surprise ending.

A "space opera" series begins with Starfarers (1989). Scientists Victoria, Stephen Thomas, Satoshi, and J. D. work on the spaceship Starfarer, whose peaceful mission is to seek alien intelligence. However, the despotic president of the United States will do anything to prevent its launch—even deploying saboteurs onboard—in order to seize the ship for military purposes. In Transition (1990), the scientists orbit Tau Ceti II, where they meet an alien civilization awaiting them. Metaphase (1992) describes the relationship between the crew and a bizarre alien called a squidmoth. And in Nautilus (1994), four alien races require the humans to prove themselves peaceful enough to join their inter-stellar civilization. The novels' comic moments and chaotic mayhem arise from the cultural clashes between people of different ages and nations as they form a cohesive team determined to carry out their mission at all costs.

McIntyre was the first commercially successful writer of Star Trek novelizations, which include The Wrath of Khan (1982), The Search for Spock (1984), Enterprise: The First Adventure (1986), and The Voyage Home (1986). These books are perspicuously told by an omniscient narrator. McIntyre is faithful to the film scripts, with occasional flights of originality that breathe life into screenplays made prose—and written at high speed to meet marketing deadlines. She has also written other novelizations and coedited an early feminist science fiction anthology.

In the Nebula-winning The Moon and the Sun (1997), McIntyre blends historical fiction, fantasy, and science fiction in her most acclaimed novel. The point-of-view character is teenager Marie-Josèphe de la Croix, a lady-in-waiting to a niece of King Louis XIV at Versailles. As fascinated in "natural philosophy" as herbrother, Yves, who has captured two sea monsters for the King's menagerie, Marie-Josèphe helps him dissect the male creature in search of an "organ of immortality." However, she establishes a rapport with the female, who is both sentient and telepathic. The plot involves Marie-Josèphe's frantic and disloyal attempts to save the Sea-Woman from being served as a dainty dish for the King, but the novel surpasses mere adventure. McIntyre enriches her simple style with luxurious, beautiful prose, and the story dramatizes the transition from credulous superstition to rational inquiry that became the European Enlightenment. McIntyre's skillful characterization and fascinating scientific extrapolation combine to form pleasing, poignant, and passionate story-telling.

Other Works:

The Bride (1985). Screwtop, bound with The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree, Jr. (1989). Star Wars: The Crystal Star (1994).


Garnett, R., ed., Science Fiction Roots and Branches (1990). Staicar, T., ed., Critical Encounters II (1982). Wolmark, J., Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism, and Postmodernism (1994).

Reference works:

CANR (1991). Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature (1996). Reader's Guide to Twentieth-Century Science Fiction (1989). St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers (1996). Survey of Science Fiction Literature (1979).

Other references:

ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum (1997). Extrapolation (Summer 1988, Spring 1990). Fantasy Newsletter (Dec. 1982). Future Life (Sept. 1979). Galileo (Nov. 1979). IAFA Newsletter (Spring 1989). P*S*F*Q (Fall 1981). Science Fiction Chronicle (May 1993). Science-Fiction Studies (Mar. 1987). Seattle Times (3 Aug. 1984). Starship (Spring 1979, Winter 1983/84). Women's Studies International Forum (1984).


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McIntyre, Vonda N.

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